When is it safe to start traveling again? And what does student travel look like now?
There is not a teacher in the world who hasn't felt that their job hasn't been turned upside down during the pandemic. Hybrid classes, remote learning, virtual graduations... we've seen it all.
But now, as there is an increased demand for in-classroom learning alongside lower infection rates, things seem to be slowly returning to a bit of normalcy.
So now our students are (largely) back in the classroom... when can we start taking them out of the classroom again?? After a year and a half of no student travel, we're seeing a real hunger for field trips and excursions amongst teachers, students and families. But when is it safe to re-start? And what things need to be adjusted in light of this pandemic?
This decision will vary widely between schools - different places have different thresholds of risk and safety concerns. So ultimately there is no straightforward answer, but we've included a few things to help you think about the risk and how you might mitigate it.
Destination, destination, destination
The largest part of your decision is the location where you're hoping to travel to. If it's a country/region/city where infection rates are high, then you most likely will want to give it a miss. The WHO and CDC give up-to-date information about infection rates and also show vaccination statistics too. Ultimately, it's hard to decide what level of infection rate is acceptable and what is not, but it's useful to look for the larger trend in the data too - perhaps the rates are fairly low but the curve is going upwards, so you might want to consider both the infection rates and also the trends in terms of these rates.
And as you discuss what feels safe for your community, it's important to keep everyone else in the loop to your decision making too. Share with the teachers, students and families what guidelines you are following, where you're getting your statistics and what number will cause you to cancel the trip. Transparency to the decision making is crucial. Using our app to broadcast messages to everyone going on the trip with this information is an easy way to make sure people stay informed.
Are you planning an overnight international trip? Or a scavenger hunt in your local neighborhood? These two have very different risks associated with them. Trips where students have to travel via major transportation hubs with large numbers of people, and are in close contact with others for long periods of time will definitely see a higher risk than trips using private transportation. Whether you're travelling by subway, bus or plane, ways to mitigate these risks are to ensure mask wearing at all times, mandate the students are vaccinated (if your school is comfortable doing this) and regular testing.
More often than not, the type of trip dictates the accommodation that you'll stay in - there aren't too many camping opportunities in NYC! Furthermore, budget means that you're restricted too. Ideally, the largest rooms with the less people in them is what you're looking for. But this is rarely feasible when it comes to travelling with a large number of students. While it's not easy to mitigate these risks, regular testing, temperature checking, and lots of hand sanitizer is at least one way to try and minimize them.
It might also be worth building into your budget the option to pay for a few spare rooms in case the need to have some students quarantine arises. Hopefully, it wouldn't be necessary, but in times of Covid you have to plan for every possibility, so having some wriggle room in your budget may well be a smart move.
Easing parents' concerns
While there is a large demand for student travel from families now, understandably there is also a lot of trepidation and nerves as to whether they are doing the right thing by sending their child off on a trip. One of the best ways to reduce these nerves is by sharing a clear and thoughtful Covid policy ahead of the trip. Take a look at our post 'Covid policies around student travel' to get some more insight into this, but in short, be prepared to tell parents what are you going to do to mitigate the risks, what are you going to do if a student feels ill and what are you going to do if a student contracts Covid.
Plan to have regular updates when you're away as well. Photos of the students outside a famous landmark, updates about they day's activities or a short post by a student about their favourite part of the day will go a long way to calming these nerves. Our app is a great way to be able to share this information in a simple and quick way - create a separate 'trip' for the parents and invite them using the unique code to join. You can share with them the itinerary, any emergency pieces of information and also send them broadcast messages to keep them in the loop. An informed parent is a (mostly!) happy parent.
And what do you do if you decide you're not going to offer overnight trips?
Don't forget that there is a local community around your school which offer some great opportunities to have students engage in experiential learning. When we think about getting students out of the classroom, we so often think about field trips further afield and overnight trips. But taking the students for an activity in the local park, or a walk in the neighborhood still offers some really powerful learning opportunities.
So if you do decide that a more elaborate trip is too risky, then don't overlook the more local trips that will still offer ways for students to learn in a real-life and hands-on way. Perhaps take your students on a scavenger hunt in the local park - as a science teacher, I would often take my students to the park to look for different instances of chemical and physical reactions, for example. Or maybe ask them to take a reflective walk around the block to consider what a character in a text they're reading would think about the local sights. Even going down to the sports field to do some data collection gets students out of the classroom and engaging in a different environment. An added bonus is that seeing as there is no public transport involved and just by being outdoors, Covid transmission rates reduce.
These experiences might not be quite so enthralling as an overnight trip to another city, but they still offer students the opportunities to experience their learning in the real world, get some hands-on experiences and connect with their peers on a level beyond just the classroom.