Verulam School Trip to New York 2022

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9 June 2022

“The only way they can understand society is to see it, smell it, walk it and that’s what we do in New York.”

We caught up with Stephen Base, Head of Sixth Form at Verulam School who has long been an advocate of school trips. In February 2022 he blazed a trail as one of our first group leaders to take a trip to New York in 2 years.

How did it feel to get the students back out on tour after such a long enforced break?

Like so many schools our students had missed out on so much during the pandemic so we were determined to travel this year. We have been doing these trips for over 10 years and I didn’t want the Year 13’s to miss out on their last trip with us.

We knew that travelling in February 2022 meant that there was still time for their experiences in New York to influence their studies. So, I spoke to Elleanor at WST in the summer of 2021 to see if we could do this and we started the challenge together. We knew it wouldn’t be easy and there were a number of obstacles in the way with travel rules changing but we were determined to get there.

I can still remember the picture I took of 36 negative covid tests that I took 24 hours before we set off!

Was the take up for the trip positive when you first advertised it?

Going on a school trip is a big part of the educational cycle at Verulam School. They start in Year 7 with a trip to the Lake District and end with a final trip in the Sixth Form to a range of destinations, one of which is New York. Because trips have always had a high priority, families were very supportive and bought in to it. After a tough 2 years many families were pleased to have the opportunity and overwhelmingly it comes down to the trips being the best part of school life.

We usually run the New York trip every 2 year for Years 12 & 13 together so this time we decided to keep it small and just ran it for the Year 13’s. This made it more manageable with all the new red tape. We are now going to run it every year so we already planning next year’s trip now for the Year 12’s.

How did you cope the extra admin for travel since Covid?

We have a very good back up team here with our dedicated EVC, Vicky. I couldn’t do this without her. With all my trips I go to Vicky with the big vision and she finds a way to make it work for us.

I do all the planning on where we are going and Vicky takes care of all the admin and parent liaison. She organised things like booking online video doctors for our covid tests. I just turned up with the students to do my swab! Vicky did all the hard work but didn’t get to go on the trip – we did bring her a present back though.

There was some ambiguity on the rules for visitors in New York due to Covid but we coped ok. An example was we got a call from the MOMA to say that our guided tour had been cancelled because the tour guide had contracted Covid and they had no-one to replace them. It was fine though, we still did a self-guided tour and they had a great self-led app that we used instead.

At the 9/11 Memorial we have previously had a tutor led experience but this year they didn’t do them due to Covid. Instead, we pre-paid to download an app which was narrated by Robert Di Niro which was a great! It was respectful, informative and it was fascinating to see all the group in silence in their own space listening to the narrative. I will definitely do that again.

Were the parents supportive letting their students travel or did they have lots of questions / worries?

Of course the parents had a lot of ‘what if’ questions but I made sure we had a plan for all the possible eventualities. With the help of Vicky we were able to spell everything out to the families and give them lots of information on things like insurance cover, latest travel updates and back up plans.

Why do you take this trip?

One of the founding fathers of Sociology, C.Wright-Mills said ‘The aim of social science is to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar’. For me ethnographic research is so important for students. The only way they can understand society is to see it, smell it, walk it and that’s what we do in New York.

That said it’s not an essential part of the course, it’s an enhancement but many of the families in our school buy into that ethos for any of the school trips.

Why did you choose New York?

Quite simply, I love New York and knowing it well I’m comfortable taking them there. The students I take are Social Science students and New York has some excellent visits that cover topics for Psychology, Sociology and Criminology, so Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum have great historical and cultural links, focusing on population and migration.

A school trip should be a really big part of everyone’s education.

   

What were your learning objectives for the trip?

For Social Science the key learning objectives were to cover migration, culture and crime & deviance. New York is a great example to talk about how in the 1980’s they embraced a policy of zero tolerance and today the city is a far safer place to visit as a result of that.

We usually hook up with a local high school for an exchange morning but unfortunately due to Covid we couldn’t do that this year.

Did you have any other objectives?

As Head of Sixth Form I see the value of educational trips for the relationship building with students and families. I encourage them even to do a day trip. At Verulam School it’s a 7 year journey and they start with a trip to the Lakes in Year 7 and expect to finish with trips in the Sixth Form.

The students are creating life-long memories. When I bump into students in later years, they don’t remember what we taught them in class but they do remember the trips they went on.

From your students perspective what was the best part of the New York trip?

First thing we do is arrive at twilight and go up the Empire State Building. It’s their first time up there and to see the New York skyline – it’s a wow moment!

On the last morning I do a walking tour taking in Battery Park and then walking across Brooklyn Bridge. They aren’t allowed to look back until we are half-way across the bridge when they turn around and look across the whole of Manhattan. Again this is a moment that really stays with them, to take in where they are.

Your personal highlights?

Every year is different.

This year the little Italian restaurant I booked Piccolo Buffalo gave us a full on American Italian welcome and we made a real night of it. They hadn’t had tour parties for 2 years and they made a real night of it for us.

Ice skating in central park is always unique. This year, whilst in Central Park we witnessed a marriage proposal in front of us, which won a big cheer from our group.

How has your experience been with WST over the years? Would you recommend us to colleagues and friends?

I love working with WST. I don’t want to have a trip off the shelf, I know the city well and want to go off script. Elleanor works with me on a bespoke itinerary for us and could not be more flexible. She is always prepared to run with my crazy ideas!

Do you have any advice for other teachers thinking about taking a trip to New York?

  • I recommend you go there first so you have good experience on the ground.
  • Do lots of advance planning.
  • Share your ideas with colleagues.
  • I always work closely with one other person who can provide support on tour should anything that’s unplanned happens.
  • Its good to have someone back at base who is helping with admin.