On Traveling with Your Students

One week ago today, I, accompanied by one of my colleagues and ten of my students, was flying over the Atlantic.  Our destination was Rome, where we intended to spend the next week, only taking a couple of short day-trips out of the Eternal City to visit Pompeii and Ostia.  After a long flight, some dubious in-flight tortellini, and the wretched hell that is Heathrow, we arrived and immediately set out upon the finest educational excursion for which I have ever brought my students out of the country.
If you have the ability to do so, and if you believe there to be sufficient interest among your students (and, of course, their parents), you should absolutely seize the opportunity to launch a trip to Italy or Greece, as it will be (surprise, surprise!) of the greatest benefit to your Latin program.  I know that I try my best to make the ancient world come alive in my classroom, but no PowerPoint, even if crafted with an attention to detail usually reserved for cuckoo clocks and artisanal cheeses, can accomplish this task as effectively as standing in the calceus-prints of the Romans and seeing their monuments as they would have seen them — at least, as closely as one can do so after a couple millennia of wear-and-tear.  A textbook photo of a “Cave canem” mosaic cannot compare to seeing it on the floor of the entire house which decorated in Pompeii, nor can such a picture of Cicero’s bust compare to seeing it among countless other portraits in the Capitoline Museum.  If we are reading the tale of Manlius in class, I might adorn the board with some doodles of geese (one of the few animals I can actually draw with some competence; you’re out of luck if you need a horse); while we were in Rome, we read that text of Livy on the Capitoline, where the students could look down toward the city and imagine the stealthy approach of plunder-hungry Gauls.  Sadly, we encountered no geese, and had to make do with sacred pigeons instead.
Establishing a trip abroad, and making it a tradition, is also a strong means of maintaining and growing your Latin program.  Our trip is, in ideal circumstances, biennial, and is open only to those students currently enrolled in a Latin course.  The prospect of visiting to Rome has, in my experience, deterred at least a few students from dropping Latin in favor of Journalism or Macroeconomics.  Such a trip also draws the attention of parents to your program, and may be useful in persuading the administration of Latin’s importance among so many other course offerings.
If you are considering organizing an excursion for the first time, make certain that you ask your peers for some good recommendations for a travel agent or company.  While I’ve never had a bad experience with any company with whom I’ve traveled, I’ve had a couple of trips I’d classify as “meh.”  For our recent visit to Rome, we traveled with the Paideia Institute, and, as I stated above, my students found the trip immensely enjoyable, not just because they were able to see ancient monuments and eat gelato every day, but also because, with Paideia’s assistance, they were able to indulge in their own innate love of learning.  Speaking for myself, I would encourage anyone who might be interested to check out what they can offer you.  And as you speak to other Latin teachers, you will certainly be able to add to your list the names of other organizations, with whom they have had outstanding experiences.  While each person will differ in their preferred prices and destinations, everyone should seek to work with an agent or organization that shows substantial flexibility.  Above all else, you want to work with someone who is amenable to helping you build a trip that will fit your curriculum, rather than merely offering a pre-packaged itinerary.
(And, lastly, regarding the matter of trips not being cheap, hopefully everyone is aware that CANE offers some modest scholarships to traveling students through the Thomas and Eleanor Means Fund!)

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