Personalize Your Trip
While all of the itineraries we develop at Academic Expeditions are customized uniquely to each school, there are many schools that decide to take this a step beyond just which and what order they tour destinations, but “how” they tour them.  In our Teacher’s Planning Guide we have already discussed opportunities of how to personalize your trip, such as meeting with your representatives in Congress, or laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.  Below are some ideas and thoughts you may want to utilize as you strive to give your students a more impactful experience by connecting them more deeply with the sites they visit, and connecting the sites they visit to your home community.

Curriculum Connections

While the individuals of a group will certainly have their own connections to the sites visited, some teachers will assign the entire group a project.  Teachers that travel during the school year have the advantage of making the trip part of a larger assignment started in the classroom.  We really like to build upon this.  When students have researched certain memorials or biographies, we’ll make time for them at appropriate sites to present to the group what they’ve learned.  Many places are appropriate to leave things, such as flags or flowers at Arlington, while some places it’s appropriate to take something away, such as a rubbing of a name etched in stone.  Research your two statues in the US Capitol representing your state’s legacy; it’s amazing how many of them have fallen into obscurity even in their home states.  Some teachers will prepare a journal or notebook of questions and reflections to answer at each site.  This is a good method to corroborate classroom learning with on-site learning; however consider the size and make-up for any notebook that will have to pass through security often, and make sure you build a non-rushed itinerary that gives the students the time and mental reserves to slow down and reflect on what they’re seeing.  The time and energy demands of a heavy tour itinerary often cause teachers to defer to a post-trip essay.  For curriculum resources and ideas to use in conjunction with your trip, please visit our Curriculum page.

Connections to Your Community

Making connections to home is a great way to personalize your trip, particularly in Washington, DC.  Have your students ask family and relatives if there are veterans of WWII, Korea, or Vietnam, or veterans of the military branches Marine Corps, Navy, or Air Force, and also of Law Enforcement.  There are memorials to all of these in DC, and one of your affiliated family members may want to send something personal to have left at one of these memorials.  Even if students do not have a direct relation to one of these memorials, some teachers will have students look up and research a name on a memorial, to leave something behind as a show of personal connection.  Use on-line databases to find the location of graves in Arlington, or the name of one killed in Vietnam.  There are memorials to September 11th in both DC and New York City with the names of victims inscribed inside.  At Ellis Island, there are inscribed names of immigrants processed there on a memorial wall; however this list is affiliated with donor contributions only, so for a more complete list, it is best to use on-line databases ahead of time.

Connecting to Local Needs

There are a number of schools that come prepared not only to engage the minds of their students, but their hearts as well by making a donation of their time or money to a local charity or organization.  Not only is this beneficial to the people that the charity services, but beneficial to your students as they are “coming of age” as citizens and learning to embrace as sense of responsibility over a sense of entitlement.  Whether it be a gift left in the name of the school, or actual time volunteering, there are a number of organizations, from local charities to global non-profits that could be potential partners in this endeavor, whether the focus be human welfare, environmental protection, or social justice.  The size of your group as well as the scope of the charity may be limiting factors for actual hands on volunteering.  We prefer that the teacher make the contact and initial arrangements with an organization that you and your community feel affiliated with and that complement the political temperament of your community.  But if you need help finding an organization, or in finding ways to give, please let us know and we can help connect you to organizations we have worked with.

Along similar lines, giving back does not only take place on site, or from the “goodness of our hearts.”  Some schools already have charitable relationships with organizations back home, and some teachers have established “financial” penalties for “misconduct” during a trip.  For example, students who show up late, lose their nametag or journal, or chew gum on the bus have to contribute a dollar (or more) to a fund that goes to that charity at the end of the trip.  Again, all of this is at the teacher’s discretion.

Religious Services

Many historic religious structures have become tour destinations in their own right (National Cathedral and Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in DC, St. Patrick’s in NYC, Bruton Parish in Williamsburg, Christ Church in Philadelphia).  Many schools (religious or non) make plans to visit these structures, and some will even prefer to do so during service times for a more authentic experience.    If this is something that interests you and you think your schedule has room for such a service, please inquire with us about how best to go about it, as many of these churches have guidelines for large groups visiting.

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