Justin Jackley and Brittany Skillern-Jackley are both high school art teachers at Round Rock High School and Westwood High School in the Austin, Texas area teaching studio art, IB art, AP art, AP art history, and more between the two of them. Together this past summer, they took a group of students on an art centered trip to England and France. Their trip focused on visiting famous museums, such as the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, allowing students to experience artwork from ancient times as well as Renaissance art, Impressionist art, and up through the Modernist Revolution that took place in and around Paris in the early 20th century. Their journey led them to Southern France and the beautiful landscapes that inspired Paul Cezanne and Vincent van Gogh. Students and teachers alike used this inspiration on tour as they created their own artwork along the way.
We interviewed Justin and Brittany about their trip, their passion for art, and how traveling helps them reach their goals as educators as well as artists:
How long have you been traveling with students?
We have traveled together with students twice so far (since 2014) – three times for Brittany.
What inspired you to lead your first trip?
We both love traveling and visiting museums and historical sites around the world. As educators, we figured that this is something good to instill in students while they are still young and impressionable.
What led you to choose ACIS as your student travel provider?
Before traveling with ACIS, we traveled through another company that shall remain nameless. We were less than impressed with this other company. They set us up with a first-time tour manager that didn’t seem to know much about anything. We were placed in low-quality hotels up to an hour outside of the cities we were supposed to be staying in. The food was even worse. While visiting Italy, I’m pretty sure that we were fed canned ravioli while staying in some sort of nunnery/convent an hour outside of the city.
What (if any) aspects of the travel experience did you find surprising? (eg. how much of the work the tour manager does for you once you’re abroad, kids’ reactions, etc.)
We were (delightfully) surprised with the quality of the food and lodging on our ACIS trip. We were surprised/impressed with the balance of knowledge and entertainment that our tour manager supplied us with throughout the trip.
How do you structure your trips to accommodate your educational goals?
As a pair of art teachers taking mainly art students abroad, it really is pretty easy to align the trip to our educational goals of exploring art history. Museums always seem to be part of these trips and it’s great for students to see live in person some of the famous artworks they have seen and read about in books. Usually, the impression is that these paintings are larger than they would have thought. Except for Mona Lisa – she is definitely smaller than people imagine, and the perpetual melee of tourists in front of her make the painting seem even smaller!
As an artist, does traveling allow you to gain new inspiration?
Definitely! We sketch/draw/paint constantly throughout the trip and encourage our students to do the same. Although sometimes time is limited and the best we can do is take a few photos to work from later on while sitting on a bus, boat, or train. We love seeing new sites, natural or man-made, and there is no better way to remember something than to take time and slowly study every detail as you draw it. It is also very inspiring to walk the same path that a favorite artist had walked or sit at a café that he sat at sketching in his notebook so long ago. We had a lot of these experiences in our time in France.
What were some of the highlights of your trip to England and France for you and your students?
I think we were all impressed with the size of Stonehenge and the way it “felt” to be there at such an ancient site. The weather was appropriately dreary/drizzly and really added to that feeling. Some of the students would surely say their favorite part was visiting the Catacombs in Paris – this was something that we almost missed due to time constraints. The line was huge and it was closing soon so we never would have made it by closing during our prearranged free time. We made a point to come back early in the morning the next day to wait in line before they opened and be one of the first groups inside. Others may say that their favorite part was when Justin got in trouble in the Louvre for giving away free art history lessons as an unlicensed tour guide!
What do students stand to gain from a life and educational experience perspective by going on a trip like this?
It is really an invaluable experience to travel the world and see how other people live. To see and experience the diversity of cultures that exists even in a small area and the long history that brought this about. It is our hope that our students will grow to be more open-minded and tolerant of other cultures past and present. From an educational standpoint, we believe that visiting historic sites makes history more real and helps to cement the facts, myths, and legends into our minds.
What advice would you give to a teacher considering leading an educational tour?
To any teachers that may be ‘on the fence’ about leading an educational trip – we would strongly recommend it! It is a lot of work recruiting students and preparing them for the trip but ACIS takes care of the most difficult part – laying out the itinerary and booking all the hotels and restaurants. Once you are there and see the way that the students are positively affected by the experience it makes it all worth it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We look forward to continuing to travel with students and have new adventures around the world! We also highly recommend keeping a blog or Facebook group as families back home loved seeing updates of what their travelers were doing abroad. You can see ours at justinandbrittanytravel.wordpress.com.
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