When I first heard about traveling with students, it sounded like fun. But then anything teacher's hear about, they think, "Oh, I'd like to do that!" So, I embarked on an adventure in leading a group of students to Washington, D.C. for four days and three nights.
The first thing you should do is find a travel company. I am not endorsing any company, but we traveled with American Student Travel, out of Houston, Texas. They did a good job of making the trip as painless as possible for myself and the other teacher who went on the trip. They assured us they would take care of any problems on the trip, and fortunately, we never needed their help. They also set up the payments and all the arrangements for flights, buses, tours, rooms, and food.
Next, clear everything through the principal. I appreciated our principal's support on this adventure. Then find another teacher who is willing to go along. I, being male, felt it important to find a female teacher.
Have one teacher for the boys, one for the girls. Single gender-led trips fine. However, mixed gender trips are very helpful, for it keeps someone from having to enter an "uncomfortable" situation.
One factor of the "group" experience, is that you would like to be able to spot your charges from a distance. Towards that end, I offer...
Assign a color shirt for each day. We let the students choose colors, and they chose navy blue, gray, yellow, and green. Well, they worked Okay, but next time, we'll choose the colors and let them choose which day to wear them. The navy, gray, and green blended in too well. Next time, we choose, red, pink, orange, something very bright. we saw one group who had all the same wind breaker jackets on in pink. Boy, we could see them across the Mall. So, bright colors, and everyone wears the same.
The morning of our departure, we arranged to have an airport shuttle take the group of 26 students and 4 adults to the airport. We chose this, for then there would be no sitting at the airport wondering if everyone would make it. Since the new Denver International Airport is on the opposite side of town from our school, it takes about 45 minutes, on a good day, to get there. So, we all met at the school an hour before time to be at the airport. We were all together, and knew we would be either all on time or all late.
Get an airport shuttle from school to the airport and back again.
When we arrived at the airport, the airline was ready to whisk us through to our plane. It was well organized and very helpful. The students were seated all over the plane, which was not a very helpful thing. But after a while, they actually seemed to be fine. They had at least one other student beside them, it wasn't like they were isolated. On the second leg of the trip, we were placed in a block of seats, which allowed for greater communication among the students. That may have contributed to a more active attitude, but then what do you expect from six hours on an airplane?
When we arrived at National Airport in Washington, DC we were placed on a bus and taken to the National Archives. There we saw the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and one copy of the Magna Carta. Then we saw the outside of the White House (see photo at left). We traveled to Williamsburg for the evening. The tour company had made the suggestion of swimming suits but that was a mistake. The students constantly begged to go swimming. But it was so busy, we never had time at the hotel to swim. Besides, I wouldn't have wanted the responsibility for that excursion.
That evening, they were excited to be away from home. It was a giant sleep over. But we kept telling them they needed to get up early, and for the most part, they complied with our requests. The company and hotel agreed to turn off the pay-per-view movies and the telephones for long distance.
The second day, we went to Colonial Williamsburg. The tour provided there was very nice. We did have to split our group but the two groups did not get the same tour, for each guide does what the group wanted to see. My group was mostly boys and saw the gunsmith, blacksmith, farming, and brick making.
The afternoon was spent at Jamestown. The archeological dig at the original site of Jamestown was fascinating. The re-created village was very good, and the students enjoyed that very much. However, we were rushed and could have spent more time there. But when you are on a tour, you make sacrifices.
Be ready to miss some things.
On the third day of the trip we saw many of the memorials. The Vietnam, Korean, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt are all very impressive. I would strongly urge you to discuss these with your students prior to arrival. They were impressed, even if it meant less to them that they did to the adults in the group.
Later, we went to the Capitol. We had met a congressman from Ohio who offered to help us get a tour of the Capitol. The Honorable Dennis Kucinich was very kind and arranged for the group to have their photo taken in front of the Capitol. We went inside and toured, saw the House in action. Ever the bed of rumors, it was rumored that Leonardo DiCaprio was there, too, so the girls were immediately distracted.
After that, we went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The students were impressed and enjoyed this. Then we crossed the Mall and went to the Natural History Museum. Then we went to the American History Museum, where all the main 'stuff' of Americana is located--cars, Fort McHenry flag, 'Wizard of Oz' ruby slippers, to name a few. It was a busy afternoon, trying to see all of the Smithsonian in four hours. Again, you do what you can.
The evening was a tour of the memorials lit at night. Very nice, but the students were getting tired. I would suggest next time to let the students go back and rest this third night on tour.
On the last day, we went to Mount Vernon and Arlington. These were very good. The tour of the house was fine. But it was the tour on our own of the grounds that was the most impressive.
Take everyone down to the river . Then visit the fields where they are growing crops and the barns where they stored the wheat.
Arlington is impressive. The students can all relate to the loss of loved ones. Many shared stories of relatives who died in battles. The sheer numbers of graves overwhelms them. The ceremony at the The Tomb of the Unknown soldier is moving. Whatever you do, your students have got to see this. Respect is very important, too. Hats off is a good rule, and those who don't take off their hats get the scorn from everyone.
It was finally time to go home. We did have a little delay in Houston, and we missed our connection. But the airline took care of everything. When we arrived home, it was nice to have the shuttle bus waiting.
You note that I didn't mention the food. It was okay. Generally, it was fast food not so fast. Anywhere you travel, there are about 150 other kids waiting there too. So, you get used to waiting in line.
The tour builds in time to spend money. It is almost too much. The kids learn real fast to spend money. But try to limit how much they bring.
Make a calling tree. When we were delayed, one call let everyone know what was going on. When we returned, one call let them know to be at school to pick us up. and finally...
Be flexible. If you cannot 'go with the flow', you will drive yourself looney. And try to instill this into your students. It really helps.
I hope you can find some good hints within these pages. I did have a good time. But as always, 'Oh Auntie Em, there's no place like home!'