First, a confession. I am at that stage of my career as a teacher where I turn up to trips with my passport and suitcase. I am the ‘experienced’ member of Maricourt Catholic High School staff. I’ve done my fair share of organising in earlier days with London, Brussels, Barcelona and Paris in the brochure.
My organising was pre the creation of paperwork and then COVID-19 restrictions. I looked on with great admiration as Mr Daly and Miss Holden made calls, responded to emails and kept the government travel website traffic numbers ticking along.
So, the ‘will it, won’t it be cancelled’ trip of a lifetime was all go.
I say all go, provided we all completed ESTAs, downloaded the passenger locator form, the US attestation form, the NHS app, the NYC COVID app, completed a fit to fly test then packed the masks.
Getting 63 negative fit to fly tests videoed with the return emails received in an hour was like taking part in a strange Netflix reality TV documentary where a group of spies watch on CCTV as you struggle to fuflil the exact requirements of the process in the hope of getting the all important email containing the all-important QR code.
Against all odds we all made it to the end and with all relevant documentation gathered we left school to pack cases and, for once, looked forward to the alarm going off and arriving at school to negotiate the roadworks and rush hour traffic that was the journey to Manchester Airport.
The new Terminal Two had an eerie quietness to it. I got the feeling that we were among the first group to be venturing abroad on a school trip. This was backed up by the staff at the check in desk who, besides commenting on the madness of taking 58 students across the Atlantic, also told us that we were the biggest and first school group they’d had since COVID-19 – a real gang of Christopher Columbuses!
The seven hour plane journey ‘flew by’ (sorry) with excited chatter, a bit of sleep but on the whole the beginning of a short, sharp adventure that will make memories that will last forever.
There is something magical about any school trip where you have the privilege of spending time with students, sometimes watching on as before your eyes they are learning about themselves, experiencing time with each other, and developing necessary life skills as they venture into life without the reassurance of parents. Yes, passports were temporarily misplaced, they had to make their own decisions and solve issues for themselves, but you know what? They all did it.
Some were even known to have to deal with other adults they have never met before and make complex decisions for themselves – chicken pasta or vegetarian dish with rice, madam?
We had a fabulous four days, the sights and sounds of New York are well documented and we did them all. The weather was bizarre, from a balmy nine degrees one day to freezing and snow the next. Herding 58 young people around a busy city is no mean feat, but we managed to get everyone to all the right places at the right times with no real issues – well we counted them all out and we counted them all in again.
The laugh out loud moments are too many to mention, they were happening on an hourly basis. Some of my stand out memories (with no names to protect the parties involved) include going to the Statue of Liberty in an outfit that matched hers, no-one in America having heard of the football team some students support, the ability of staff to catch 40 winks in the middle of a musical, wondering if this actually is the street our hotel is on (again!), getting into groups – again, buying enough M&Ms to feed the entire school, celebrating an 18th birthday in New York, me being the mad one for not spending a fortune on Wi-Fi for the plane so I could Snapchat, being serenaded in Ellen’s Diner, ‘Friesgate’, trying to sort out the seating in the theatre, shoes of different sizes, blisters, the list is endless, and I am still catching myself giggling as things pop into my head.
Teenagers continue to get a bad press, unfairly so in lots of cases. Being able to speak to people on the subway, in shops and restaurants who ask the obvious question when you see five adults try to herd 58 of them around one of the world’s busiest cities. Then being able to accept their compliments about the students’ behaviour, manners and personalities will always stay with me.
If you are reading this as the parent of one of the students, we took with us then you should be very proud of them, we are and we thank each one of them for their company, conversation and laughs during the trip.
Unfortunately, it’s back to reality but rest assured the New York cohort of 2022 will live long in the memory.