Saturday, October 6, 2007

High School Trips

One of the big rights of passage in our high school is the big trip. Only our school, being comprised of a lot of ridiculously wealthy families, doesn't just offer the typical Washington DC, London, or maybe New York City trips. Oh no, that would be too pedestrian. They take yearly trips to Prague, Paris, London, China, Japan, Central and South America, and Israel. Oh, and Washington DC, too. This year my kids both have their hearts set on taking a trip. My son wants to go on the Prague trip so badly that he's taken to asking every adult he knows to subsidize him. So far, he hasn't earned a cent.

My daughter just came home and announced that she wanted to go on the Washington DC trip. It's for a week in March, she reported. Except that we have no school vacation in March. We have a week in February, and a week in April, but not in March. I think she's a bit confused. She also told me that the trip costs $1700+ for a week. I think that's pretty pricey, and definitely out of our price range.

I don't recall having so many trip options when I was in high school. In fact, looking back through my yearbook shows that we had no trips at all. None. But with this generation of overpampered kids, taking trips abroad seems to be par for the course. When my daughter was in 5th grade, she was asked to come to Paris with a friend of hers. Um, Paris? Needless to say, she didn't go. Just how much is a 5th grader going to appreciate Paris without her family?

I have been thinking about this and I'm wondering if these trips are really beneficial for kids. I know they have a lot of fun on the trips, and they are led by school personnel, but really, how much can a kid learn in a week about a totally foreign country like China? Plus, the cost of these trips makes kids who aren't in the upper echelon financially feel continually left out. My son, who is a junior, has friends who are going on their second and third trip this year. Seeing the world on school vacations has got to be better than hanging out at home playing Xbox. No doubt about it. But is it right to spend so lavishly on a child? Do kids really need to take 2, 3, or even 4 trips during high school to visit foreign lands? I'm just not sure that this is the best use of a kid's time, especially during junior year. On the other hand, it is a great way to pad the resume for college admissions, but there again it becomes an elitist thing. The child that can't afford to go is at a distinct disadvantage once again.

I love when people claim that there isn't a class system in America. Oh, yes there is. When those of you with younger kids start dealing with high school and the competition to get the best grades, do the most internships, travel to the farthest points on earth, and receive the most SAT prep, you'll see just how divided this country is. For those who can't afford to swing Drivers Ed, SAT prep and a class trip all in the same year, or in fact even one of those things, your child will be at a severe disadvantage when it's college application time.

I think it stinks. What about you?


sybil said...

Interesting thought. I can certainly see the writing on the wall - my olderst just started school.

On the other hand, I grew up in the mid-west; in a small farming community and our school didn't have class trips but my sister and I spent a month in France one summer when we were 15 & 16. We stayed with the family of the girl we sponsored as an exchange student the summer before. My family definitely didn't have the money, but saw the value and my whole family saved and contributed to pay for our trip. It was an amazing experience.

Marie said...

I grew up as a kid whose parents had very little money and couldn't afford to do things for us that other kids did. It felt rotten sometimes. But I really think I gained more than I lost. I appreciate money's value, I know how to work hard, and I don't expect life to be handed to me. Those are valuable things your kids will be blessed to understand. It's not all bad that they can't afford everything their friends can afford. Explain it all to them, how you can't afford to do some of those things, and why. Give them a chance to earn their own money to pay their own way on a trip or two if that's possible. I think it's easier to teach kids the value of a dollar if they don't have everything given to them.

Fairly Odd Mother said...

I'm sure for many kids, school trips, no matter the destination, become just giant 'sleepovers without the parents'.

Our town newspaper also does stories about these trips often---one group just went to Peru. I'd much prefer my kids go and live with a family for a semestar (and, hopefully, we can host a child as well) rather than just go on a pricey site-seeing expedition.

Pinks & Blues Girls said...

When I was in high school, the big trip was a day at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence. Hundreds of kids from all over the state crammed into the theater. And we were mesmerized. These 4 (one each year) "trips" set the tone for my life. I fell in love with the theater, and this love affair continues today.

My children were offered one trip to Europe during their senior year of high school. Audrey went. Jane didn't. Good experience? Certainly. But I do feel that perhaps your school is something in the over-kill category. It may even be a case of more is less.

I agree with Marie that earning a special trip may be a good answer. And I also agree with Sybil that an exchange program is a wonderful experience (my niece and newphew from Baltimore had incredible adventures with the exchange programs).

Excellent post. I hope your answers come!

Sharon - Pinks & Blues Girls

Ruth Dynamite said...

Like so many other things, I think these trips have become just another status symbol for the school, the parents, and the kids. Nothing compares to the experience of going abroad as a teen, sans parents. But I agree that a semester abroad or three weeks during the summer living with a family may have more of a lasting impact than a one-week sight-seeing tour with school chaperones.

Whirlwind said...

Unfortunately, I wouldn't trust sending my kids abroad with school. I know what happens when teenagers are with just a few chaperone's overnight for a few days. It wasn't too long ago when I went on a high school trip to Virginia Beach. I imagine things have changed a bit in the last 10 years and probably not for the better.


Emma In MA said...

Both my kids have done a "big trip" in High School - son Adam went to Australia for 3 weeks Junior year which was mostly sightseeing and once in a lifetime experiences - climbing Sydney harbour bridge, Bungee jumping, overnight with aborigines,sheep ranching ,scuba at Great Barrier reef and more. Daughter Charlotte went to Peru last year on a more educational and socially aware trip - the kids raised money pre trip to buy computors for a school in the mountains, and took a couple hundred bagies filled with school supplies, and an extra suitcase each filled with new and barely used clothing . They also visited Machu Piccu, stayed in the rainforest in ecolodges(cold showers and 3 hours of electicity a day) , but for her the highlight was visiting their adopted school, and playing soccer with the school children with a bull in the same field, surrounded by mountains.
Both trips were, for us, expensive, but worth every penny in experience ( and no way could we afford to take the whole family!). I agree, some schools have way too many, and with no value, other than bragging rights, and no educational value. The peru trip was amazing, and the whole group has now a bond with a small school in a poor, rural area of Peru - they are going back next year, our Spanish Dept e-mails regulally with the Peru teachers, isn't technology wonderful? Best of all, DD has vowed to return as an adult, and build a school just outside Lima, where the children who live in the shanty town on the hillsides outside the city have to travel over 3 miles on foot one way to attend school in the city. I think she will!
The difference between the trips? Son went to a private Prep School, so trips didn't need to have a big educational element, and daughter is at our local public High School, so all school sponsered trips must be mainly educational or service based.
Personally - I was jealous of both of them!

Velma said...

It's an interesting question. It's easy to say that it's just a perk for the well-to-do kids, and I agree that it is easy for these trips to be nothing but a pre-college vacation.

However, one of my longest lasting friendships was formed on a 9th grade French club trip, and over 25 years later, he and I are still true friends - the kind of friends that we couldn't have been if we just knew each other through in-school contact. You know the drill - I was in the marching band and he was a football guy, but taking us out of our roles made us friends. And that's another thing - just friends, which for a teenage girl is an amazing thing.

As far as "application time," as a product of a privileged upbringing and a lucky SAT score, I had options that I'm sure I didn't deserve. Then again, I look back and think that my semi-ivy education was a waste of money and I would have been much happier going to art school and bypassing the whole academic college merry-go-round. Easy to say, right?

What do you think about tailoring the "college quest" to the kid and not the kid to the "ultimate" college? I'm interested in hearing what the parents of older children have to say about this.

Liz said...

I went as a high schooler to France for three weeks- as a part of an exchange program. My family and I hosted an exchange student in the fall, and I then stayed with her and her family for three weeks in the spring. It was THE formative experience of my life. I was imersed in a new language and culture and completely captivated. The next summer I spent a month with her and got to see even more of the coutnry. I entered college, majored in French/PoliSci, spent the next summer visiting my friend again and traveling. My junior year I enrolled in a year long study abroad program and attended a French university. When I got married, my friend came to my wedding. And when she got married in April, I cashed in frequent flier miles and went to her wedding.

That one three week trip lit a fire in me and has shaped who I am and some of the things I love and even my first job, that I am so grateful for the sacrafice from my parents and my grandfather in making it happen.

So I guess what I am saying is that there are rich experiences to be gained from travel- at any age. Evaluate the opportunity and give your kids a chance to see the world through a different lense- even if the biggest thing for you in high school was a day trip to Big City USA...

Tricia said...

I didn't have a trip in high school. Although my sister DID go to Germany with her German class two times. Hey wait...I think I got the bum end of the stick!

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