School field trips are designed to give kids a greater appreciation for what they learn at school through studying historical sites and monuments firsthand. But there are other, even more important lessons – like learning to be more independent, developing a sense of self, even getting along with others.
Administrators and teachers who’ve been involved with planning and organizing school trips agree the benefits are twofold. Let’s dive a bit deeper into how these trips work – and address some of the common questions and concerns.
School trips 101
As kids enter middle and high school, there may be opportunities offered through the school for her to travel to another city – or state – with her classmates.
Some area schools offer an overnight experience at a YMCA or similar camping facility for new sixth graders entering middle school. These trips are meant to help students bond with each other and teachers. Others may be offered through school choir, drama or language programs. Perhaps best-known are excursions students take, often in eighth grade, to major cities like New York, Washington, D.C. or Chicago with teachers, parent chaperones and classmates for three to four days.
These trips usually are organized through a school administrator or teacher and sometimes take place during the school year (and can even take up school days).
Tour services coordinate the trips for the students, working with teachers to accommodate students’ interests and serving as guides during the trip.
Education, not entertainment
Whether social studies, language arts, science or other subjects, teachers try to connect what students are learning to what they might experience on their trip.
Over the years, the journey has become a broader effort. Explains Phil Freeman, previously employed at Pioneer Middle School in Plymouth, “(Our annual) New York City trip is so much more than a school trip for our students. We have a school-wide theme connected,” such as peace or making the world a better place.
Students try to share their experiences on the trip with their parents – and community. Kids take part in a photo exhibit to display pictures taken during their travels. Administrators attend the exhibit, and a local arts council even gives out prizes.
Patrick Connor, formerly president of the Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA), says school trips have shifted through the years to focus exclusively on education. That’s not to say that students don’t still have fun.
“In some circles, it’s called edutainment,” he says – and it encourages educators to open students’ eyes to lessons everywhere. “A lot of learning opportunities were being missed before.”
Take an amusement park. Students might go on a roller coaster, but they’ll receive a lesson on physics beforehand – so they have a greater understanding of what they experience.
‘Will my child be OK?’
Linda Miller, a mom of two in Bloomfield Township, wasn’t worried when her eighth grader headed to Chicago. Her daughter was going with other choir, orchestra and band students for a weekend. Careful planning among school representatives, tour operators and parents put her mind at ease.
“Good communication makes a huge difference,” Miller says.
Parents often are surprised that students are urged not to bring their cell phones – or anything valuable. Instead, parents are given a list of phone numbers of their children’s chaperone, teacher and tour operators, just in case. They’re also given a full itinerary of the events their kids will be attending.
Often there are several meetings with parents, teachers and tour operators months before the actual trip. For example, Pioneer held an informational meeting for eighth grade parents just after the school year started, even though the school trip didn’t take place until April. That gives parents plenty of time to have any of their questions about the trip answered.
Help your student prepare for his trip with this handy packing list that will put your mind at ease, too.
School trips aren’t cheap. Parents can expect to pay around $1,000 for a four-day trip, which includes airfare, lodging, museum admissions and other event costs.
Connor says that nationwide tour operators are trying to help trim costs by offering busing instead of air travel and less-pricey hotels (that are usually a bit farther away from the central part of a city).
The question of whether to fly or bus can be tricky, Connor says. As airline fees and baggage costs continue to rise, so do airline tickets. And yet busing students carries disadvantages of its own – students wind up sitting in a bus for two days.
To help, some schools have fundraisers during the year to offset the trip’s price. Principal Freeman adds that there are scholarships for students in need. “It’s very rare that we get a student who isn’t going because of financial reasons,” he adds. “About two-thirds of our eighth graders go on the school trip.”
For those who chose not to go (perhaps they’re involved in sports or have family obligations), some schools try to provide similar types of experiences closer to home – for example, visiting Detroit or Ann Arbor and attending museums there.
The bigger lessons
Over and over, Freeman says that the response he gets from parents after their kids have taken part in trips is, “My kid came back different – more mature.”
Claire Walton-Swisher, a teacher at Pioneer, says that carries over into the classroom.
“I notice that our discussions in class become richer,” she says. “I think it makes them more comfortable to share their opinions in class, too.”
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This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for 2016.