Brian teaches 7th grade world history in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He’s relatively new to the ACIS Family, but from the sounds of it, this is the start of a beautiful friendship. Hear about his experiences with educational travel and how he thinks it impacts his students.
1. Tell us a little about yourself! Where do you teach? What are your interests?
I have been teaching since 1998 and have been in my current position for 10 years. I have a passion for travel and teaching history, so this was a natural fit. I took my first trip to Europe in 2001, and try to go back as often as possible. I have now been to 15 countries and even got married in a castle in Germany. In 2012, I was awarded a Fund for Teachers grant to travel and improve my teaching. Seeing how much I learned on that trip really made me want to take students and try to provide the same experience. Maybe when I retire from teaching I can work for ACIS?
2. We’ll definitely make a note in your file for that one! Had you previously traveled with ACIS or lead students abroad?
I lead students on my first ACIS trip in Spring of 2018. I took a dozen 7th and 8th grade students (and 2 parents) to Paris, Avignon, and Barcelona. I am taking 14 students (and 6 parents) to Munich, Innsbruck, and Lucerne this coming March of 2019. I am already recruiting for our 2020 trip to Ireland and Scotland!
3. What are the top provider qualities you look for when organizing a trip abroad? What made you decide to take a trip with us?
When I began researching an educational trip to Europe, I was interested in providing students with an experience very different from anything they knew. I was looking for hotels in the city centers, the ability to use public transportation as much as possible, and the ability to travel with a small group and remain private. All of these goals were easily fulfilled by ACIS. While I did not travel with any of ACIS’s competitors, I was constantly called and emailed (almost in a harassing way) by their competitors. They tried to win me over and even offered to match everything offered by ACIS. They were able to match, but I was not comfortable choosing a company that could match ACIS by going outside of their normal parameters, when ACIS provided those services naturally. I also enjoyed all of my correspondence (whether by phone or email) with all of the ACIS representatives. People like Tricia Holda, Jill Federschneider, and Zayneb Allak made our experience so much more enjoyable and we all felt a more personal connection with them. There was no “hard sell”, just “what can we do for you to help?” Another example of ACIS guaranteeing a great trip was our experience (or lack of one) with the trains over Easter weekend. The trains went on strike, but ACIS had a charter bus waiting for us and everything went very smoothly.
4. Did you have any classroom goals for your trips?
My classroom goals were simple, get the kids out of the classroom and experience history first-hand. I wanted them to walk through the places that we talked about in class, to visualize their learning. As a seasoned traveler myself, I also wanted to provide an opportunity for my students’ personal growth. I knew that traveling in a foreign country would increase problem-solving abilities and help to instill a self-confidence in my students that would help them to “come out of their shell” and be more successful as they transitioned to high school. ACIS totally helped achieve these goals. Having the ability to use the food vouchers in France allowed students to rely on themselves to choose restaurants and interact with locals in a way that is sometimes missed when traveling with a tour group. The students also enjoyed having down time to explore on their own, while not be constantly shuttled from one museum or activity to the next.
5. Fundraising and recruitment are two big topics when creating a tour. Any tips for teachers building a group?
As far as recruitment goes, I use pictures of previous trips abroad in my lessons and I am always pointing out connections to places we will travel that connect with the curriculum. Being a good story teller when teaching history also helps.
We as a group do not fundraise because of the difficulty with district financial policies. Since my trip is not district or school sponsored, the students are on their own to raise the money. I always recommend that they tell all of their family and friends to stop buying them presents for a year and instead donate to their trip. I explain that “stuff” can be lost, stolen, broken, or simply outgrown, but an experience like this belongs to them forever and no one can take that away.
6. Which aspect of the trip do you think your students enjoyed the most?
My students enjoyed the smaller villages/cities we visited on this trip. Places like Avignon were still foreign and gave them the ability to test themselves with their abilities, whereas Paris was great but slightly overwhelming. They truly loved everything because it was all new and all exciting. Out tour manager, Zayneb, also made it special by teaching the kids the Pont du Avignon song and dance and then letting them perform it on the bridge. I think that was one of the benefits to taking middle schoolers: they are willing to be a little silly without fear of ruining their status with others.
7. Any fun stories you would like to share from your travels?
We had several fun stories on this last trip… We had a student get stuck in the turnstile of the Paris Metro when the gate wouldn’t open. She had to squeeze out with the next girl that came through. While in Barcelona on our last night, we were taking a stroll down la Rambla and several of my students heard some local young people singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Our kids responded with the mama mia part and before we knew it there was a full on concert in front of the Christopher Columbus statue. Needless to say, all of our cheeks were sore from laughing and smiling at this spectacle.
8. Where would you like to go next?
We are traveling to Munich, Innsbruck and Lucerne in March of 2019 and Dublin, Belfast, and Edinburgh in April of 2020. I am already thinking about where to go in 2021! Maybe Amsterdam and down the Rhine?
9. In 15 words or less, why would you recommend ACIS?
ACIS has the best tour managers and consultants in the business. They make everything stress free.
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