Traveling with school music groups has a multitude of benefits – both musical and non-musical. Many times the nonmusical benefits far outweigh the musical benefits. To take advantage of these travel benefits, begin by asking the basic “W” questions – Where, When, What, and with Whom? As you decide what type of assistance you will need to answer these questions, be sure to take advantage of resources available to you within your school community; you may not need an outside trip planner or company.
For example, the “where” of our trips has evolved from our community. The fact that students get acquainted with a different place than their home is a wonderful nonmusical benefit. A trip to Bermuda was made possible when a group from Bermuda wanted to visit a school in Atlanta; they visited us, and, as an exchange program, we took our student musicians to Bermuda.
A trip to Carnegie Hall was possible by tagging onto a school who made this trip in the past.
A trip to Washington, DC, was made possible through a parent who was the chief aide to a United States Senator; the family was so familiar with our nation’s capital that we had opportunities to perform at the Indonesian Embassy, the Russell Senate Office Building, and the Pentagon.
The New Orleans’ trips were made possible through connections of a music faculty member who had lived in New Orleans. The “where” choice must take into account places for lodging, meals, and performance experiences. For example, we had a group of over 300; we had to become creative in our meal-time scheduling. To help a restaurant accommodate our large group, we divided it up – half the group ate at the restaurant while the other group walked to a nearby mall; then, we switched activities.
The “when” of our trips is dictated by the school system’s calendar. Our school board only allows a one-day absence for students going on trips. Therefore, we scheduled our trip during a two-day teacher workday, when the students would have been absent from school anyway. We traveled during March – a “safe” weather time for almost any destination in the United States.
A nonmusical benefit of “when” is the tight schedule that students must adhere to when they are traveling with a group. Everyone must be on time to each activity to be respectful of the time of the entire group.
The“whats” of your trip are the experiences that you want to plan for your students. What do you want them to do, to see, or to learn? The school system’s approval of a school trip is determined by the educational benefits of the trip. We determined that we wanted students to experience the culture of New Orleans through a Mardi Gras Museum, a swamp tour, the World War II Museum, and a jazz music performance.
The students were able to hear jazz musicians perform, and then perform alongside these professional musicians. Students became a part of the creative process by performing an original composition and recording it with the composer and the professional jazz musicians.
Nonmusical benefits included a community service experience benefiting people impacted by Hurricane Katrina. After a young band student had worked hard to unearth a sidewalk still covered with mud from the floods caused by the hurricane, he witnessed a young boy in the community riding his bicycle on his “new” sidewalk, as the bus pulled away. Another nonmusical benefit became apparent when a special needs student found the determination to learn to tie her shoes after hearing a professional drummer with no hands telling of his struggles in learning to tie his shoes.
With whom will you travel? Of course, we would love to take every music student who we see daily. However, students and their parents must make choices. Students have to be committed to being a contributing member of the music group by cooperating in daily rehearsals and attending scheduled concerts. For safety, students have to know how to follow directions; students who do not choose to follow directions and receive the consequences of multiple detentions and suspensions are not qualified to go on a trip. Students who have passing grades in all classes probably can afford to miss one day of class to go on the trip; students who are failing classes do not need to miss any class time. Every student who meets these requirements – self-management and academic – goes on the trip.
Finances are never a reason for students to miss a trip; if we are aware of financial needs, we assist those students. Of course, students with financial needs must participate in fundraisers. The nonmusical benefit is that hard work results in success which translates, many times, into being rewarded.
The “Where, What, When, and with Whom” aspects of a trip must be planned well in advance to take advantage of any opportunities and to give sufficient time for the ultimate in organization. Parents entrust their children to teachers who are organized and place the safety and well-being of students first. Our students travel once during their three middle school years. If you choose to travel with your music students, I suggest planning on a three-year cycle – one year off, one year to plan, and one year to take the trip. Both the musical and nonmusical benefits of traveling with your music students enhance the momentum, enthusiasm, and quality of your music program.
Students who participate in such a trip gain understanding in the value of hard and independent work – qualities that will assist them in becoming successful citizens of the world.