Educational travel can open minds, defeat global prejudices

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 30, 2010

Recently I managed to hit the hot button of a substantial amount of Tribune readers.

This statement is made based on the volume of comments that I received about a piece I wrote a few weeks ago regarding educational travel.

Often there will be one or two emails regarding a topic but my email inbox got a pretty good workout over this topic.

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Yes, I’m an advocate of educational travel. However I’m not an advocate of a school field trip travel that is passed off as educational experience. There is a tremendous difference between these two types of trips.

A trip just to Kings Island is not educational. Properly designed educational travel can and should be fun but meaningful.

The destinations visited, trip content and activities should be closed aligned with class/school learning objectives and state standards. The ‘let’s just get away and play for a day’ just doesn’t cut it for me.

Travel truly transforms students. On Jan. 20, 2009, in Washington, D.C. thousands of citizens braved the crowds and frigid temperatures to witness the historic inauguration of President Barack Obama. Standing on the National Mall, they heard President Obama’s call for innovation in education to prepare all children for the 21st century global marketplace. Student travel is a key component in accomplishing this mission. Educational travel is just one of the innovations changing the face of learning today.

The benefits of travel are many. Whether students are exploring monuments in Washington, D.C. or studying the ecosystem in Costa Rica travel is a transformative experience that complements and expands classroom lessons.

Examining up close the ink that sealed the fate of our founding fathers as either treasonous rebels or brave leaders of a new nation hammers home the risk they took by signing the Declaration of Independence. Visiting Philadelphia and seeing the Liberty Bell and touring Independence Hall adds depth to learning outcomes.

Travel inspires, challenges perspectives, fights stereotypes and shows young people that, although the world is large, we share more similarities than differences.

Spending a day as a New Yorker or a Parisian can enhance a young person’s perspective and inspire a lifetime of exploration. The ability to understand and interact with other cultures is a crucial skill in the changing global economy.

Studies consistently show that parents report seeing academic improvement and notice a higher level of maturity in their children after participating in an educational travel program.

Because of this research educational travel is now endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education.

Travel must meet educational needs. When choosing a student travel organization, it is crucial to examine the provider’s academic credentials.

Educational travel is more than visiting historical sites; it requires critical thinking and compels students to understand the significance of their surroundings.

Itineraries should be designed to enrich lives and inspire students with knowledge that a classroom alone cannot provide. Travel planners and educators need to work together in crafting a content-rich itinerary.

Journeys should support active learning and open the minds and immerse the students in the learning experience.

I believe that educational travel experience goes beyond travel arrangements and helps students and educators meet their educational and professional goals. As globalization brings the world’s citizens closer together, it is important to educate, inspire and equip every child for the challenges that await them.

The travel industry has recognized these specialized needs and today there are firms that concentrate on educational travel and mobile classrooms. Unfortunately as in most industry segments there are some companies that provide quality and value while there are other organizations that lure educators with free trips and travel stipends to attract their business.

I always suggest comparison shopping before making any buying decision.

Often the national firms with huge direct marketing budgets and slick promotional materials are not your best value. Do your research and explore your options before you put your students on the road.

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Be sure to thank a vet or two this weekend!