Tis the Season for Conferences and Global Travel and Trips Oh My!

As you’ve likely heard, we apparently had the largest number of students/faculty traveling EVER that last few days before Thanksgiving break.  I was one such lucky human, and I got to hang out with Susan Pace, Cullen Brown, and Monica Colletti in Anaheim, California. We went to some great sessions, ate some amazing Thai food, learned a bit about birding from the expert himself, and everyone was incredibly understanding when I messed up on the AirBNB booking and we had no place to stay for our last night. This I believe: conferences by myself are cool.  Conferences with colleagues are the best.

 But this blog is not just about my fun trip. Here’s a few words and pics from our national and international travelers: 

Blake Ware (Italy with Global Studies): One of the themes that kept emerging in my mind were similarities I found between some of the political tensions that were felt at times in ancient Rome, and how we continue to wrestle with similar questions today. It was a fascinating lesson in ancient civilizations and human behavior!

Hollie Marjanovic, (“Learning and The Brain”): I went because the focus was on “The Distracted Brain.”  There were 2 major topics: Brains and devices and Pandemic Related Issues with the Brain and Learning. This was the BEST conference I’ve ever attended! On the positive, I loved the speaker who said to us that maybe what our kids need to face our future (fraught with issues related to global warming) are the lessons learned from this pandemic.   The fact is that 80-85% of our society (that includes students) experienced Post Traumatic Growth and not Post Traumatic Stress.  Going back to Post Traumatic Growth…..we have to help our students process it.  Ask them questions about before and after the pandemic.  Have them write about or share their experiences from the pandemic.  How has life changed?  Remember when x?  I loved a model of having the counselor and English teachers doing some writing and reflection together.  We can’t just move forward with our curriculum as if nothing happened in the past few years.  We have to help them see how they have grown and that they do, indeed, have resilience.  

The other piece I learned and feel strongly about as a parent and teacher is that we need to ban phones during the school day.  The average student after age 12 is spending 9 hours per day on their phone.  They are losing basic skills at unprecedented rates.  Don’t think of it as “9 hours per day on the phone, but rather what else they could be doing with those 9 hours.”  Every study shows that social media consumption for more than 2 hours per day leads to anxiety.  There is now a term…”acquired ADHD”…that doctors are seeing around ages 14-16.  Their prescription is asking parents to take away phones and social media for 2-3 weeks and see if there is improvement.  I was really impressed by a teacher I met from Rochester, NY who said that their teacher union voted to ban phones at school.  It wasn’t an administrative decision initially.  They, as teachers, were seeing the effects of phone use at lunch and the addiction and distraction.  They wanted to make the change.  She said that the kids are happier and their test scores have improved.  It’s a bold move,  but after seeing the evidence, a discussion– at the very least– is merited.

Emily Philpott (Ireland and the United Kingdom with students for a Global Studies trip): I love traveling internationally…experiencing new places, trying new foods, and meeting new people. There is a sense of adventure and excitement when you are going to a new place fo the first time or going to a favorite destination to make new memories. However, travel isn’t always easy and things don’t always go as planned. Due to a flight delay at the start of our journey, we had an unplanned night in Philadelphia and some extra hours in the airport. Our students handled the situation with positivity and resilience (and some humor), and my fellow chaperones pivoted to create new plans and remained energetic in the face of two very long travel days. I was reminded how much I enjoy traveling with the best students and colleagues, even when things are challenging. 

*I am sharing 3 pictures: (1) students modeling their new “I love Philadelphia” t-shirts purchased from the airport gift shop; (2)students passing the time with puzzles, riddles, and soduko (3) chaperones just arrived in our Dublin hotel, tired but still smiling after 2 days of traveling. 

Lea Crongeyer: We presented at the National Association for Educators of Young Children Conference in Washington D.C.. The experience was incredible! I loved being with others from around the country and around the world that teach young children. We talked about the differences in schools where we teach and why that impacts how you teach. Also, presenting for the first time on a subject we are passionate about was thrilling and very well received!

Margaret Clark  (Italy — Sorrento/Pompeii, Florence, and Rome)

I am one of the teachers in charge of planning and executing this trip. Specifically, I am the only teacher on the trip who speaks Italian, so I was in charge of all dinner bookings + leading the group through the city of Rome and the various sites and museums we visited.

I’ve said this before, but I went on this trip as a student (Spring Break 2004). It changed my life. I spent the next year trying to teach myself Italian, to the extent that my Latin teacher (Patsy Ricks) told me about an opportunity to live in Italy and attend an American school there focused on classics and ancient history. I was basically a goner. It means so much to me to share this trip, which has been so important to me personally, with students. 

One moment that completely took me by surprise happened on our last full day in Italy. We were in Rome, in the Roman Forum. It was about 4:15, and we had been on our feet since about 8:30. We started in the Campo de Fiori, stopped into the Pantheon (my favorite building in Rome), saw the only remaining arch from the Baths of Agrippa (built by my favorite Roman, Marcus Agrippa), toured the Capitoline Museums (one of my favorite collections), drunk from my favorite water fountain in Rome (yes, I have one — it’s amazing), visited the Colosseum (which everyone needs to do once, but honestly, I could take or leave at this point). In the Forum, we got to visit a temple that had only recently been opened up after restoration! We were at the end of our day and stopped by the triumphal arch of Septimius Severus. I guided the students through the famous/infamous inscription over the arch. After all that, the students were still engaged and eager to work through the Latin together! And then, just like that, my work was basically done. It was my first time being in charge of the Rome portion of the trip, and it was exhausting! Rome is one of my absolute favorite places, but at the same time (and because of how much it means to me), it was a really daunting task to guide 21 high school students through its tangled mess of cobble-stone streets without losing anyone to the equally imminent threats of Italian traffic patterns  or dumbstruck awe at the Roman ruins or peaceful and picturesque piazzas in the middle of a vibrant, bustling modern city. I teared up and almost started crying (and I’m not a crier). It was the relief of my major tour-guiding responsibilities being lifted, the emotions of having such a real and genuine connection with students over something that I love doing, and also the awareness that the trip would soon be over and it would be back to real life for all of us. The trip was exhausting in ways that I still can’t really communicate, but it was also so exhilarating. Almost 20 years later, I still haven’t recovered from my reality being cracked wide open by the same trip I am now able to share with my students.

Sandra Flores (NAYCE National Convention Centre Washington DC)

One of the most valuable things was gathering with early childhood educators from around the globe to connect, collaborate, engage and learn together to land a great group of colleges related to us and participate, secondly getting to know each other, my teachers/ friends from St.A.

Susan Pace (Anaheim, CA for the NCTE Conference)

Being in California with colleagues on the eve of Thanksgiving break was an incredible privilege. In addition to being able to join expert birder Cullen Brown on an early morning bird hunt, the conference schedule was jam-packed with teachers sharing tips, tricks, and mindset shifts. A bonus for this lifelong bibliophile was the number of free books I picked up and lugged across the country as my travels took me first to North Carolina to catch up with my family before returning home. The little library I carried with me from my fourth-grade classroom now has an update with middle-grade novels to share with my readers, AND the sessions I attended have invigorated my teaching and learning in the seventh-grade English room. 

Junko Bramlett (Romantic Trip to Italy???)

I went to Italy over Thanksgiving break with David, and some of you commented to me that it was so wonderful to go to Italy with him and it would be so romantic.  Sure we had some relaxing moments…….We got up super early one morning to have breakfast alone before students woke up.  We had some cheese, cured meats, fresh pastries, bread, and juice.  We had a private server for a moment to fix us two cups of espresso and a cup of cappuccino!  But was the trip really romantic?  After all, it was the international field trip.  You have to forget about Italian wine or a visit to a winery as typical tourists. Was it worth giving up my whole Thanksgiving break to take care of 21 teenagers  in Italy?   I am not one of the cool teachers who taught Latin to prepare most of them for this trip like Thomas Riesenberger (Mr. R) and Dr. Margaret Clark, or Dr. Bramlett who can magically make Math class fun for the students who have a difficulty in finding joy in Math class.  

 Well the trip started off just like the spring break college trip I went with Colin Dunnigan and Scott Johnson several years ago.  That time I had to take care of a sweet student who kept throwing up on the bus with severe cramps from her period.  After the trip, Colin shared with me that he could not have survived the trip without me.  Two men could not deal with a female problem alone.  As I noticed before the Italy trip that it would contain several days of 4 to 6 hours bus rides, I put some Walmart plastic bags in my backpack and also saved some sick bags from an airplane on the way to Italy just in case.  Yes we had to use them right away.  When we heard a student yelling from the back of the bus one morning that his friend was feeling sick, I immediately passed the sick bag and the plastic bag to save him.  It was another field trip with students as we do here with Kindergarten.  The only big difference was that we were in Italy.   Same thing on bathroom issues.  As I do for kindergarten students, I had to keep reminding high school students to go to the bathroom before getting on the bus.  Despite my attempts to avoid an issue, one day actually one student demanded the driver to stop the bus for her to pee on the side of the road because she was going to explode if she did not.   Well so we ended up stopping at an OK gas station to eat lunch instead of the nice fancy gas station with decent lunch.  

And the morning of our trip’s highlight visit to the Capitoline museum, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum….  10 minutes before the departure time, two different students texted David that they did not feel well and possibly had a fever.  Of course, David had to dig up two Covid-19 tests from our bag to rush to take them to their rooms.  As you know that the test would take at least 15 minutes from then.  With the delayed departure and one student going back and forth from the visiting sites to our hotel, David had to shove down beautiful and delicious German pastries just bought and Mr. R ended up losing his visit to the Colosseum, and the whole group lost the lunch from David’s most favorite lunch spot, Jewish Ghetto offering tasty meals with reasonable prices.   We had students with tree nut allergy, nut allergy, gluten allergy, religiously restricted diet. It was so tough for Margret Clark to find restaurants who accommodate our demands.  

Was it really worth going to Italy with kids?  Did I still enjoy it?  Yes!  Just be able to view the same buildings constructed 2000 years ago still standing and functioning in some way, to walk on the very same pavements and crossing steps that ancient people used,  and to drink the safe and clean water provided by still steadily functioning water fountains off the road.  We sure have lots of knowledge and techniques we could learn from ancient Roman friends to run clean and safe water.  

One of the most exciting moments from this trip for me was when Josh, who just got transferred to our school this year, discovered the exact floor spot of the Santa Croce Church where Glileo Galiley was buried by translating the Latin writing on his burial marker.  Josh was really starting to blend into our school Latin buddies.  This is the best kind of gift the language teacher could receive from his hard work teaching young students who are craving to learn more and more.  

Yes as for bonus experiences, I actually got to see the real David by Michelangelo and see our Pope Francis in my bare eyes even though his head was pea size.  He kissed three babies that morning.   I will go back to Italy more prepared for knowledge and language so that I can have deeper appreciation and excitement.

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