Kimberly Gallaspy knows plans can quickly change. The seventh-grade Honors and eighth-grade PreAP Science teacher at Hardin Jefferson ISD in Sour Lake, Texas, had been on trips as a chaperone and finally had the chance to lead a student trip of her own. Then, Hurricane Harvey happened, forcing cancelation of the trip and destroying three neighborhoods within the Hardin Jefferson district.
“Approximately 30 percent of our students and staff were affected in some way by the tragedy of Harvey.”
When Gallaspy learned of the SYTA Youth Foundation Silver Lining Program, she immediately spoke with her principal and staff members; she knew their students deserved a chance to experience educational travel. Each year, through this program, SYF grants an all-expenses-paid trip to approximately 35 students and youth, selected from the SYTA Annual Conference host city to travel to another part of the world. Gallaspy and her fellow staff filled out the application and eventually got the good news.
“I was actually stuck in a blizzard in New York with my family when I found out we were selected.” The news was uplifting and thrilling for everyone at Hardin Jefferson. Roughly 130 students expressed interest in the trip, with names drawn for the 25 available spots.
Every student on the resulting trip to Philadelphia was affected in some way by Harvey, some losing their homes completely. The trip, Gallaspy notes, was a blessing to them all. “Several of the students selected had never been on an airplane or out of Texas. This was a huge deal for them!”
The students experienced an array of inclusive and educational attractions, among them the Museum of the American Revolution, National Constitution Center, Franklin Institute, a cruise on the Spirit of Philadelphia, stunning views from One Liberty Observation Deck and the bright lights of the Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival.
Gallaspy enjoyed seeing students’ faces light up when they saw artifacts and places that they’d previously studied in their history classes. One stop included Independence Hall—a location central to the founding of the U.S.
“One student excitedly said, ‘Mrs. G, we’re standing in some of the same places our founding fathers stood!’ with a smile on their face and pure excitement in their eyes.”
The students weren’t the only ones moved by the experience. Gallaspy and fellow staff member Karri Beard felt a wave of chills that came hand-in-hand with tears while visiting the historic site. “I’m not sure if SYTA will ever understand just how grateful we are for the opportunity they gifted us with.”
Millions of students sit in classrooms every day and listen to their teachers give a lecture, look at pictures or watch a video about a particular topic, Gallaspy notes, yet when a student is afforded the opportunity to experience learning through travel, their minds open up and they listen, ask questions and engage in an entirely new way.
“It’s eye-opening. It’s contagious. That’s why as long as I can, I’ll always be associated with student travel in some form.”
Visit sytayouthfoundation.org/silver-lining to learn more about the SYF Silver Lining Program.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for Teach & Travel.
This article originally appeared in Teach & Travel.