Carol Murray was a University of South Carolina student when she began working with students as a member of the USC String Project. In this unique program, college students in music education worked with elementary students who came to the university for beginning classes, advanced orchestra sessions and private instruction. Upon graduation, Murray taught in Richland School District 2 for 10 years. Fast forward to Richland/Lexington School District 5 and the past 18 years teaching at CrossRoads Intermediate School in Columbia, South Carolina, where she’s the orchestra director.
She started traveling with students during her first year of teaching in public schools. Carowinds, a local theme park, hosts a respected music festival—and playing for a reputable music festival, Murray notes, gives students a nice goal and incentive to work hard throughout the year. To help the students travel, the orchestra holds annual fall and spring fundraisers.
As Murray grew more comfortable traveling with students, they ventured farther from home each year. “I’ve taken my students to various festivals in Orlando, Florida, for over 20 years. My students look forward to these trips each year. Travel has definitely helped to grow my program!”
Murray loves delivering a performance in a nice venue the students can be proud of. “Our students need and deserve so much more than just playing in a gym for their parents.” It’s important to get students excited about performing from the beginning, she adds. “Learning to play for adjudicators and in front of huge audiences is different than learning to play for a small crowd in a less-than-appropriate venue.”
Each year offers Murray new favorite memories. “I love seeing my students so excited about running from ride to ride in the parks or getting so nervous when they walk onto a stage in front of the judges. I love getting to spend some nice time with my students: I can have a different kind of fun with them when we travel.”
Likewise, great lessons are learned each year. “Perhaps the most valuable is that a wise teacher would not dream of taking a trip with students without working with a great company, experienced in student travel. I would never try to do this on my own!” The most important thing an educator thinking of travel could do is work with a SYTA member tour operator.
Murray tells all her student teachers to begin a relationship with a student travel group as soon as they can—and work to build that relationship through the years. “Loyalty to a good company is important and will serve you well throughout your career.”
The biggest challenge she faces is the logistics of traveling with a large group of students and fragile instruments. She considers herself “blessed” to have found Justin Shuler at Group Travel Network, long ago. “I know someone always has my back in our destination city!” She knows it’s also important to work with a reputable bus company, building relationships with the company and drivers.
Working through GTN, Murray always has an ambassador assigned to her group; to meet at places throughout travel, answer questions and ensure all goes smoothly at the group’s various venues. Knowing “the little details” are covered, Murray focuses her attention on her deserving students. “The people at GTN go above and beyond to ensure our group has the best experience possible. Justin once drove from the theme park to our hotel to chase down our bus, to get some paperwork I had forgotten! I would not travel without them.”
Murray’s students benefit from travel in many ways. First is musical growth. “Preparation for a performance away from home is more intense than for a concert in the school gym. The students are motivated to work harder toward this big goal.”
Second is personal growth. “I teach at a sixth-grade-only school, so my students are 11 and 12 years old. Sometimes, our big performance trip is a student’s first time away from home. I love watching them grow emotionally as we prepare for our big trip. They also grow on trips, as they learn to work with others, together, to achieve a common goal.”
Finally, the friendships students—and often chaperones—make on trips last for years, through middle and high school.
“I can’t say enough about the positive benefits of student travel done right!”
Written by Amy L Charles, Editorial Director for Teach & Travel.
This article originally appeared in Teach & Travel.