Dean Bromowitz was a shy, awkward kid. Small for his age, he read feverishly and and did not seem to socialize with other children. He was often targeted by bullying middle school students. When we embarked on one of the first trips I took in my career as a music educator, we knew we had done the right thing. Feeling proud of our forethought in having Dean’s father along as a chaperone to assure Dean’s emotional well-being, we departed the school for a day trip to a music competition at a theme park in New Jersey.
The day went well. With a musically successful performance, the students won first place in their age group and then embarked on the short bus trip to Six Flags Great Adventure. I despise theme parks to an unhealthy degree. Tempted to make a separate post titled “Why I hate Theme Parks,” I will instead boil it down to one embarrassing sentence: I am deathly afraid of rollercoasters! Afraid is probably an understatement—I am petrified, terrified, and all the other “-fieds”! There are many good reasons to despise theme parks—corporate marketing to children, large lines, and overpriced everything. But when it comes down to it, those could be overlooked if I could do what most normal people do and jump onto those swirling, looping, bopping, weaving, lunging, plummeting speed-trains of joy. Whee!!!
The Roller Coaster King
You know who was NOT afraid of rollercoasters?—Dean Bromowitz. This kid was the master—a rollercoaster savant. He rode them non-stop, whirling in the air, screaming his lungs out, and gathering a following during our first few hours at Great Adventure. All of the most popular children gathered around Dean. He told them the ins-and-outs of each ride and in what order they would be conquered. Before we knew it, Dean Bromowitz had a pack of middle school girls following behind him like Justin Bieber at a suburban shopping mall. Dean was THE MAN!
His father’s presence was somewhat of an afterthought, until the bus broke down on the way home. As we calmly reassured the students that a replacement bus would arrive shortly, Mr. Bromowitz lost it. He proceeded to yell at students, pace back and forth on the side of the road, and ask for updates every three minutes. This guy was a wreck. The irony was that we had invited Mr. Bromowitz along as a chaperone to keep Dean calm.
Why Travel With Students
Traveling with students requires hard work. Teachers grapple with the extra time and effort required for planning, the responsibility for the safety of the children, and whether the educational goals will be worth the effort. The time away from the classroom need always be demonstrably more beneficial than if the students remained in school.
At the end of the day, the success of a field trip will be determined by how much the students enjoy themselves and what they learn. Educated adults clearly need daily in-school instruction, but we all remember our field trips. There are some more memorable than others, but I even have a strangely vivid recollection of a trip to a local power plant in the second grade. If a man my age can remember that, imagine the memories created on a ten-day trip to Paris or Sicily.
My role in trip planning has changed over the years. In my first year as an educator, I served as a chaperone on a middle school social studies trip to Washington, DC. This merely required accounting for students at various check-ins and making certain they were settled in their hotel rooms at night. Now, as an arts administrator, more of the process falls on my shoulders.
The Impact on Students
Each trip involving students is a memory-making journey for both the students and the adults. Sometimes the memories derive exactly from the predefined educational goal of the outing. A few years ago, three of our high school art teachers took their students on a guided tour of a Japanese stroll garden less than an hour from home. Once the tea ceremony began, it was as if we were in a different world. Following every detail of the ritual, the stoically silent students were transfixed. The ceremony was followed by quiet sketching and a peaceful hike to the awaiting school bus. Previous conversations replete with teenage angst and concerns about upcoming exams were supplanted by low-voiced discussions about the meaning of the ceremony and the beauty of the day.
Educators Learn Too!
Educators also make memories during field trips—and through the course of a career—a lot of them. For three years, I taught music at The American School in London and was thrilled to be part of any educational travel that required a chaperone. In 2003, an opportunity arose to assist with the eighth grade trip to Normandy, France. The group leader required all students and adults to read the classic book, later turned into a documentary, The Longest Day, by Cornelius Ryan.
Previously not a history buff, Ryan’s classic account of D-Day enthralled me. Although it was not a difficult read, it would not be much of an overstatement to say that it changed my life. A pacifist to my core, that book served the dual role of recounting the gruesomeness of war that I had always reviled, while simultaneously opening a well-spring of respect for those who have served in the military, regardless of country. Visiting the three cemeteries—French, German, and American—provided a perspective that could not have been attained from reading any book or simply watching a documentary. The power of travel was on full display.
You might be thinking that I am romanticizing the educational power of these trips, and I am. But the real fun begins with the truly unexpected moments. Ranging from Dean Bromowitz’s harem of rollercoaster groupies to a sixty-hour endurance fest beginning at the Orlando Regional Medical Center (all turned out fine), traveling with students is filled with ups and downs. My stories can border on cliché, but it is the absolute truth that dedicated educators do all they do for the sake of kids. In return, we are provided with lifelong learning from the children and a treasure trove of memories.
A Few More Memories
My experience with group student travel has run the gamut from chaperoning two-hour local museum outings to proposing, planning, organizing, and being in charge of over 150 high school students on multi-night excursions. Over the course of over twenty-five years, destinations have included the aforementioned Six Flags Great Adventure (eight times), Disney World (three times), San Francisco, Hawaii, England’s Lake District, London, Vienna, Prague, Warsaw, Luxembourg, and more. There are a LOT of memories.
Arjit, an Indian billionaire’s son opening a huge black umbrella when it started to rain in the forest we were hiking through, conducting John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever at a beautiful resort in Hawaii, fourteen-year old Rich being coaxed by his chaperone James to return several expensive watches to an airport shop after an unauthorized spending spree, trip leader John accidentally setting off the hotel fire alarm at 12:30 AM during a chaperone meeting in DC, and the joy in the faces of all of the children as they watched a fireworks show at Epcot Center.
There will be more travel with students in my future. Teachers will weigh each trip’s pros and cons. Planning will be cumbersome. Parents will worry about the safety of their children. Students will obsess over their possible roommates. Fundraising will take place. More memories will be made.
And maybe—just maybe—I will channel my inner Dean Bromowitz and hop on a rollercoaster.
Author’s Note: All student names have been changed.
In My Unexpected Life: Travel, Food, and More, I will share stories, thoughts, and simple ideas to entertain and maybe even inspire others to engage with new food, travel, and more…no matter how big or small those experiences may be.
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