Meet Laura Stager. Laura is a science teacher and an expert educational traveler; she has brought 11- and 12-year olds to Washington, D.C. on three occasions and has traveled to Costa Rica with 12- to 15-year olds once. Laura also runs Compass Points Solutions, a supplementary educational program that provides programs and tutoring to students who are transitioning from elementary school to middle school. We caught up with her on her tips for enforcing behavior while on tour.
How do you make sure students are at the correct location at the correct time?
A lot of this is handled with proper preparation. Before departure, we repeatedly tell students that punctuality is paramount, and that everyone should bring a watch. Students also know that if they are punctual, we can often work in “extra” activities.
While on tour, we have the “walk of shame.” This is a humorous yet effective method to keep them punctual. Late students have to stand at the front of the bus and apologize to everyone, and then walk all the way down the aisle to their seat. Sometimes students lightheartedly chant “walk of shame!” The chaperones do a great job of making it funny and kids get the message without hurt feelings.
What are your tips for controlling nighttime behavior in hotels?
Prior to arriving at the hotel, we review proper hotel etiquette, reminding the students that there are paying customers whom they must respect. We also let them know essential information for the next day, such as their wake-up time, where to meet for breakfast, what to bring in their backpacks and what they should wear.
After arrival, students typically have an hour to an hour and half to get ready for bed before lights out. After that time, the chaperones visit each hotel room to ensure that students are in bed. Additionally, Brightspark Travel provides nighttime security that arrives at 10PM and remains in the hallways until 5AM.
We assign a “room captain” in each room. This is the only student who may leave the room for trips to the ice and vending machines, or if an emergency arises and a chaperone needs to be notified.
How do you handle especially misbehaved children?
Sign up for our trips is in the fall, before we know the kids very well. During registration, students are told that we reserve the right to remove them from the trip should behavior become an issue over the school year. We cannot take students across the country who cannot behave themselves or whose behavior takes the focus off everyone else; it is a safety concern. As the trip approaches, students who are consistently breaking rules and/or misbehaving are placed on a behavior contract. This is sort of the last resort. They know that one more infraction will result in removal from the trip. It is hard to remove someone from a trip, but traveling with only well-behaved students makes it a much more pleasant experience for everyone.
How do you handle students’ technology while on tour?
In D.C. we do not allow cellphones; iPads and iPods are allowed on the plane, but upon arrival they are collected and stored securely with a chaperone.
In Costa Rica I do allow cellphones, but excessive use is curbed by warnings about increased international rates. If students do spend too much time on cell phones, I remind them that their parents did not pay for the trip so they could spend time on Snapchat and Instagram; the primary objective is learning.
How do you take care of a child experiencing homesickness or anxiety issues?
In my opinion, confronting and dealing with these feelings is essential to building coping skills. Being away from home without parental contact provides students with an opportunity to learn to cope with feelings of homesickness. While it may be tremendously hard at the time, the confidence they gain from their educational travel experience is worth it. Parents often tell me, “Wow, it’s like he grew up in 4 days!”
How do you care for a child who has become ill?
We have enough chaperones that there is always someone who can stay at the hotel with a child who is ill, but thankfully, we have never had to do that. We get the occasional upset stomach and motion sickness, but encourage the child to cope with feeling ill while still participating in the tours and attractions. We also bring along OTC meds for things like allergies, congestion, bug bites etc. If a student requires one of these, we call the parent for permission.
How do you work with students with dietary restrictions?
Generally, I talk with the parents to get a better idea of how specific/urgent the dietary restrictions are. Then I notify Brightspark Travel, who always seems to find kid-friendly and accommodating restaurants. I also talk with the manager upon arrival to confirm that the chef is aware that we have kids with special dietary needs.
Fun fact: Laura’s husband, who’s served as a chaperone on several tours, was the winner of our 2015 Photo Contest. See his winning photo here.