Teacher's Guide for Planning your Academic Expedition
Choose Your Destinations and Dates
Your planning process begins with deciding where and when you want to travel. If you are still undecided about this, then please visit our recommended “Where to Go?” and “When to Go?” pages in this Teacher's Resources menu. You will also want to decide how broad of an invitation to extend: To all students? To which grades? To parents? To the Community? Please visit our Group Management page for tips on this. Once you have agreed on your destinations and dates, it’s time to begin the planning process with us: In general we’ll take care of all of the travel logistics, while you promote, organize, and prepare your group. Of course, you and your prospective travelers will first want to know the cost of the trip. In order to provide this, we will need to know:
- Exact arrival and departure dates
- Desired sites and activities within the destinations
- The number of anticipated students
- The number of anticipated adults
- Preferred arrival: Flight or Over-the-road Bus
With this information, we will be able to calculate the cost for your trip. If you feel that the cost will be prohibitive to your travelers, we will work with you to amend it, as long as it does not sacrifice any of our Standard Features. With these details in place, we will email you a Group Travel Agreement (GTA) which will include the agreed upon itinerary, number of travelers, costs along with deposit and installment due dates, and all the features and amenities included in the trip. This is just for the teacher to sign. In some cases, where there is an unpredictable number of travelers, we may have to tier different trip prices according to how many people actually register and come. If this is the case, we will begin registration at the higher price tier, and if sufficient numbers of registrants come in to drop to a lower price tier, we will adjust the trip cost accordingly.
Most schools arrange to have families conveniently make registration and payments directly to Academic Expeditions – which can be done through our online registraton and payment pages. However, if you'd rather handle payment through your own school staff or financial administrator, who then sumbit payments to us in lump sums, that can certainly be arranged.
There is no specific timeline for your planning, but of course the earlier we begin the process, the better flight, hotel, meal, and site reservations we can reserve on our end, and the more time your group has to plan, fundraise, budget, and study for their trip on your end. One year in advance is a good target to begin planning.
Promotion and Registration
Likely, you have already requested approval and feedback from your school administration and community. With your GTA signed and confirmed, you can now officially get the ball rolling with your travelers. It’s time to organize a Parent Meeting, probably your first among several. We will create a private page on our website just for your group that will serve as your Registration and Resource Page. In order to access this private page, you will have to have an "Access Key" created for you and your group to use. Directions to this page, along with the Pass Key will be provided to you in your Trip Information & Registration sheet. Please have copies of this sheet and your draft itinerary (if available) ready for distribution. Emphasize the academic value of the trip and how it fits into the overall school curriculum. Be sure to highlight all that is included in the all-inclusive trip price. Discuss any fund-raising efforts that you will initiate and go over your chosen payment procedures. An Academic Expeditions representative can be available by either phone conference or in person to assist and help answer logistical questions that your families may have. Also please direct everyone to other resources on our website, as we have extensive information here on our Travel 101 page to orient travelers thru the logistics of their experience. While there will be those who sign up late, and those who may cancel for various reasons, emphasize the advantage of early registration and on-time payments, as the earlier we have solid numbers, the more advantage we have in securing preferred flights, hotels rooms and certain site reservations. We have included a step-by-step guide that one of our experienced teachers has created to aid in hosting an effective First Parent Meeting. Feel free to use it for your own needs. - First Parent Meeting
Requesting Tours and Appointments
Academic Expeditions will make as many appointments and tour reservations that we can on your itinerary; however there are certain sites and ceremonies in Washington DC that by their nature, will only accept request from the school and teacher themselves, rather than a tour company. They are:
- White House Tours
- Meeting with your Congressman or Congressional Staff
- Wreath Laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
- Bureau of Engraving and Printing Tours
- Pentagon Tours
These are each unique opportunities to make your trip special should you be fortunate enough to secure an appointment. In order to give yourself the best chances, start the request process as soon as you know your dates and number of travelers. See specifics on how to make these requests below:
White House Appointments
The easiest way to begin this process is to log onto your Congressperson’s website as most of their offices have on-line request forms:
Requesting the White House tour through your Congressional office is the most important request, since in fact, it is the only way for general public to enter the White House and space is limited. In our experience about 25% of school group requests are granted. If you are one of the fortunate groups, then you will then have to submit name, date of birth, social security number, and country of origin for each of your travelers. White House tours are actually self-guided and last around 30 minutes. Security is very tight and absolutely no bags or cameras / photography is allowed, and all you bring with you is your photo ID. In all honesty, the White House tour (walk-through actually) is one of those sites that the students are very excited about at the start of the trip, but once they've done it, their response is under-whelmed, and they rarely list it as their "favorite experience" at the end of a trip. So, if you get this appointment, definitely go as it is worth it, but if you don't get it, don't feel like your trip will be any less eventful. Note, no tours are necessary to see and photograph the White House from outside the gates.
While you can request public tours of the inside of the Capitol from your Congressperson as well, we are also able to schedule these ourselves through the Capitol Visitor’s Center and usually at a time that fits better into your schedule, so this is not recommended. What we do recommend is requesting a meet and greet with your Congressperson or Senator if their schedule allows for it. Let us know if you are able to arrange such a meeting and we will build the itinerary around it. Another thing that your Congressional office provides is gallery passes to enter the public viewing seats of either the House of Representatives or the Senate. These can be requested in advance, but it is not necessary. You may also show up un-announced to request these at the appropriate office, though if your group is large, it will help their staff to have a little bit of advance notice to get them ready.
Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery is a great honor and is a way for your students to express their gratitude to those who have served and sacrificed for our nation. It is one of the more moving and memorable events that you will do with your students while visiting our nation’s capital. You may request this honor online at Arlington National Cemetery's Wreath Request Page. From our experience, the mornings are the busiest times at the cemetery, so consider requesting a late afternoon time, or during lunch hours. Not only does this give you a better chance of your request being granted, but you'll be less likely to be pushing through the crowds to view both the Guard Change and Wreath Laying Ceremony. It can get very crowded up there, and good viewing space is limited. Note, the cemetery is open from 8am - 5pm October through March, 8am - 7pm April through September.
If your request is granted, four students of your choice, following a prescribed dress code, will be permitted to perform the actual wreath-laying while the rest of the class observes respectfully. Many teachers conduct an essay contest at school to decide which students lay the wreath, while other select their students randomly. As soon as you learn of your confirmed appointment, let us know so we can be sure to put your Arlington visit at the appropriate time on your itinerary. Academic Expeditions will also take care of ordering your wreath and having it delivered to the tomb guards.
If you are not granted the opportunity to lay a wreath the Tomb of the Unknowns, you can lay a wreath at a different grave, for example at another notable grave or memorial or a relative’s grave or someone from your town, and we can certainly arrange for that instead.
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Tours of the BEP can be arranged through your Congressional Office or to send a request directly to the BEP for a reserved group tour, visit the BEP Tour Page. During the busy season the BEP does not allow large groups into its public tours except by advanced reservation only. This is a worthwhile tour to see how our currency is printed and processed. It takes an hour and absolutely no photography is allowed. As always, if you secure this tour, let Academic Expeditions know immediately so we can put it into your itinerary.
Group tours of the Pentagon may also be requested through your Congressional Office or through the Pentagon's Online Request System. Not many of our groups do these tours, because either they were not granted the opportunity or they simply decided not to based on the itinerary. These tours typically take 3 hours out of your day and most of that time is spent getting to and through the security processing. Absolutely no photography or bags are allowed, and they ask for two forms of ID. Note, no tours or appointments are required to visit the Pentagon’s September 11th Memorial and view the outside of the building where the terrorist attack happened.
Now that you have your itinerary and in place, know who and how many of your students are going, and have made your initial appointment requests, you can strategize how to make academic connections into the classroom. If you are the history or social studies teacher and if all or the majority of your students will be going on the trip, you can create thematic assignments for your students to complete before, during, or after your trip. Please visit our Curriculum page for teacher resources that we and some of our teachers have developed to be used in conjunction with visiting some of our destinations.
Fundraising and Finances
We recommend organizing fundraising efforts for your students and families to take part in, not merely for the benefit of making the trip more financially feasible for a broader range of your students, but that we find students are more appreciate of their trip when they have worked toward it. So many of the memorials and historic sites that we visit reveal the sacrifices and investment of our prior generations, so it is only fitting that our young travelers come with a sense of sacrifice themselves rather than a sense of entitlement. Please visit our Fundraising page for ideas that some of our schools have implemented to make their trip more affordable.
Some schools and communities are financially secure enough that fundraising is not necessary, but they recognize the importance of instilling gratitude and generosity in their students, and so their “fundraising” efforts are directed not so much at paying for their own trip, but ways that they can give and serve in the destinations they visit, either making a donation of their finances or their time to a local charity, ministry or non-profit during their trip. If this is something you’re interested in, please visit our Personalize Your Trip page for more ideas and information.
Whether you are having an administrator at your school take care of your group’s timely payments, or you are having your families pay on-line to us directly, you will want to periodically check the status of these payments and give the necessary reminders to your families so that we will be able to secure accurate flight, hotel, and site reservations.
Hotel Room Assignments
A few months out, we will begin asking you for your hotel rooming list. For your security and peace of mind, we will hire our own Nighttime Security to monitor the hallways where your group is staying. We also make sure your group is blocked together; however, depending the size of your group and the layout of the hotel, we try to put girl rooms and boy rooms on separate floors or separate corridors. You know your students the best, and you may want to intentionally group some students together, while separating others. Many teachers let their students submit who their preferences are for roommates and you can arrange your list as best as you can to match these preferences. Do not forget that your rooming list needs to include parent travelers, whether they are in singles or doubles.
This is also the time where you should alert us to any special needs as a group or for individual travelers – for example: connecting families by adjoining rooms, handicap accessibility, need for a refrigerator for storing certain medications, having a conference room available for meetings at the start or end of the day.
Packing List and Dress Code
It is a good idea to provide your travelers with a Packing List well in advance of your trip so that they can purchase or obtain certain items they may not already have. We have provided a general Packing List that you may use, and make additions to it that pertain to your specific school, trip, and season of travel.
There are only a few specific dress code that are required at any of the sites we visit, but it is always a good idea to set your own standards of appropriateness for certain occasions. For example, some schools require a polo shirt and non-jean trousers for their Capitol day when they’ll be getting a group photo or meeting with their Congressman. For those that go on a Dinner Cruise or to a Broadway show in New York, packing some nicer clothes is important (From our experience, the girls are quite keen, while the boys need some coaching). Those students selected to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will also be expected to look appropriate at the request of Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Army (slacks for boys, skirt or dress for gilrs. closed top shoes, and collared shirt).Whatever dress code you do or don’t establish, it is essential that you emphasize repeatedly that your students wear clothes and shoes that are comfortable for all-day touring in variables of weather. Emphasize both comfort and class over potentially inappropriate youthful fashions.
Having your group ready for an Academic Expedition is much more than just setting appointments and checking items off of a Packing List. Navigating a large group of people through a busy schedule in unfamiliar and crowded settings requires collective order and discipline. Many times, parents traveling on your trip will need just as much coaching on your expectations for group management as your students do. Many schools will distribute Behavioral Policy forms that must be read and signed before the start of the trip, outlining such things as expected behavior at historic sites, restaurants, and hotels along with clear consequences for not adhering to these expectations. We leave these expectations and conditions up to the prerogative of each teacher and school, but we’ve seen a lot of good examples and a few bad examples in our years of experience, so please review our Group Management page for suggestions to effectively deal with the behavioral organization during your trip.
One Month Prior to Trip Departure
One month before your trip, we will have created a page on our website that will contain information about your trip, including your itinerary and packing list, to help your group prepare in their final stages. You will be given a group login so that only your group has access to this page. Please provide your students and parents with this login ID and password at this time and direct them to our My Trip page. The itinerary will have your flight and hotel information and our on-site photographer will be posting photo links on the page during the trip as well, so that family members back home can plan around airport departures and arrivals, note hotel numbers for phone calls, and follow the progress of the trip via the photos.
You will need to distribute and collect signed Medical Release Forms at this time, and you may also want to distribute hard copies of the itinerary, rooming list, behavioral guidelines and other preparatory documents you feel necessary to insure a ready departure. You will also be sent items from Academic Expeditions for distribution to your students, such as name tags and lanyards, luggage tags and backpacks. You may wish to distribute them on the day of departure to insure everyone is using them, but you may distribute the earlier as well.
Hit The Ground Running
All the preparations and logistics above are with the aim that when our Academic Expedition staff meet you at the airport, or at a designated arrival point if you’re busing over the road, you will be ready to hit the ground running on a fast-paced, but smooth experience of a lifetime. We recognize and appreciate all of the effort that our teachers and other chaperones must do to organize and prepare your group for a successful trip. If this is the first time for you to do a class trip of such complexity, we hope the information here has made it an easier process. We desire a trip that ultimately blesses you with a rewarding experience that testifies to the integrity of your school, the investment of your parents, the sanctity of the sites we visit, and our professionalism as a company.
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