You’re a planner by nature, certainly. That’s why you’re on TouringPlans.com, right? Following guidelines for the best family trip suggests visiting Walt Disney World during the school year, but planning for a week out of school may be daunting. Checking in with the teacher, educational field trip requests, and team schedules may overwhelm even the most ardent planner. With a little organization, and some honest assessment, any parent can manage school parties, rehearsals, and get all the homework done on time. My wife and I have over thirty years of combined teaching experience, and are notorious over-planners. We can help. You thought all of these tests were done years ago, didn’t you?
Before even making your 180 day dinner reservations, or plunking down the deposit, make some honest assessments about your children. Pull out attendance records and grade reports from the last school year. See what the district reported about performance. If your child missed double digits of school without a trip involved – or any other extenuating circumstances – a trip may impact the year negatively. Even with work provided and advance notification, missing school loses out on that educational experience. With most districts in the United States making a strong shift to common core, much of the educational process builds on previous learning. Especially in math and science, what kids learn today assumes they have the knowledge from previous days.
Check kids’ grades closely. This means much more than recollecting that your son or daughter is a pretty good student. Look at the numbers. Students with low grades, declining grades, or special needs may need extra help from you and the teacher following the trip. Most teacher schedules involve additional time beyond your child’s day. If possible, arrange time for your child – and perhaps you – to meet with the teacher before or after the trip.
Remember obligations for all students. Fall sports and activities start meeting in August. Many clubs have scheduled trips, concerts, and performances throughout the year. While some may be flexible, some (theater, for example) may require your child to be in attendance through the season.
Planning a trip requires closer checking than free dining and lowest cost. Your local school district website would be the best place to start. Most school districts approve calendars for the upcoming school year in the spring. First, check the dates of state and national level testing. Some school districts will not approve trips for any students during the time of testing. These testing windows may be as little as a few days – or as much as two weeks. Most states require multiple levels of testing, as well. In Pennsylvania, for example, students must demonstrate mastery of mathematics, science, and English. For some students, this may be all in eleventh grade. For others, it may occur in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade. If a student doesn’t demonstrate mastery, then the child must complete a course, and re-take the test the following year.
Check the dates for SAT tests and ACT tests – and advanced placement tests, too. While the SAT and ACT are offered multiple dates, your child may wish to take them multiple times. Advanced placement exams are generally offered one date – in May – and qualifying for a make-up test doesn’t include trips to Walt Disney World.
Familiarize yourself with your district handbook. It should include information about educational trips and make-up work. Turn in your trip request as soon as it is booked – or better yet – before you book it. Give enough time for the district to review and approve your trip. Schedules and calendars can change radically throughout the year. This past winter, most school districts in our area had multitudes of cancellations due to weather. The state decided to modify our scheduled testing window. Students with pre-approved trips already had the paperwork in hand. Those that waited until after the testing window had changed had their requests denied. By completing work early, obstacles had been overcome.
After approval of your trip, communicate with the teachers. About two weeks before the trip, send a quick reminder to the teachers, and ask about work that will missed. Some teachers may have it ready to go, but others may send work to complete during the trip. Still others may prefer your child to make up the work upon return. Every one of your children may have differing amounts of work for before, during, and after the trip. Depending upon the level, your child may have different directions for each class, too. Upon return, re-contact the teacher about two days before the trip to serve as a final reminder, or to return work completed ahead of time. Clarify any concerns about work, and ask for updated deadlines for assignments.
After your trip, get your kids to school. Are they tired? Certainly. Missing more school may compound the problem. Instead, get your kids to school, and get them to bed early. Have your kids talk with the teacher before or after school – and follow-up with an e-mail to check on other work. Plans most certainly changed during your time away. Check and meet deadlines, then follow up to confirm all work has been completed. While district policy shouldn’t be weaponized, know the details about length of trip and time allocated to complete work upon your child’s return. Problems undoubtedly will occur. With this many working parts, you, the teacher, and the kids may encounter hurdles that previously seemed manageable.
Communicate as quickly as possible. Once, I had a student call me from Hawaii on my home phone number because she had a difficulty with an assignment I had given her. I told her to hang up the phone, go to the beach, and enjoy the day. While her away from school assignment had entailed far more, I could see it was interfering with her life, so I re-directed her. If her parents needed to confirm, they could call me. She, however, was forbidden from considering any other part of an assignment for me. If she hadn’t the opportunity to contact me she might have worried throughout the trip – and lost the whole reason for the vacation. As a teacher, I frequently tell students that there are two types of kids – those who worry too much, and those who worry too little. She most certainly fell into the first category. Communication can quickly clarify small details, allay any fears, and overcome difficulties. Emails are generally within reach for everyone.
Help your kids and teacher – but don’t make excuses. Students can move mountains. Most of them don’t generally have a deep desire to – which makes them exactly like the rest of us. By making clear high expectations – with solid deadlines – kids can achieve. Expect greatness. When difficulties arise, give feedback. Don’t, however, intercede and take over. Teachers know which work was completed by parents. The lesson of stumbling on an assignment and overcoming will affect your children positively. Guide your kids back to the teacher for questions and guidance. Teaching students how to achieve falls well within my expertise. Guiding parents does not. When students tell me they are taking a trip during the school year, I try to ask them multiple questions. While planning a trip to Walt Disney World may seem daunting, with careful planning and follow-up it can prove a rewarding experience. Certainly, I’ve never regretted a day that I have missed school – and especially not the ones I missed to go to Walt Disney World.
Please welcome Kevin Bastos to the TouringPlans blog team. Kevin and his wife are both teachers in Pennsylvania. They have three children.