Musical Growth on a Michigan Island

Mar 18, 2020

Jim Gibbons, Band Director at Oxford (Michigan) Community Schools, is no stranger to Mackinac Island.

In fact, the educator of 21 years has been taking over 100 seventh- and eighth-grade band students to the yearly Mackinac Music Clinic by Brightspark Travel since 1998, his first year on the job.

“I always feel the excitement of seeing students experience new things when we travel,” said Gibbons, whose Oxford career has included teaching sixth-grade Beginning and Advanced Band, seventh- and eighth-grade Band, and Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band, Concert Band, and Marching Band at the high school level. “For some, this may be the first trip they’ve taken without their family. That can be intimidating. But the way we do it, and the fact that they’re with many of their friends, helps lower stress and teaches them that they can go into the world on their own—for a couple days, anyway.”

In addition to the music clinic, the small, automobile-free Michigan island offers ample chances to learn about Colonial and natural history—whether seeing rock formations via a horse-drawn carriage tour, exploring historic Fort Mackinac, or admiring hundreds of native and tropical butterflies in the Butterfly House.

“Clinicians, who are college-level professors brought in by Brightspark, listen to students and immediately provide feedback and conduct a workshop with the group,” said Gibbons, adding that students had positive reactions and enjoyed getting feedback. “Clinicians give students tips on not only how to make the piece they’re playing better, but how to improve their overall playing, both as an individual and an ensemble.”

Gibbons often hears student responses like, “I really liked the clinician,” or “That was more fun than I thought it would be,” or “I never realized I could do that.”

“As an educator, I want to give my students many varied learning experiences to help them grow as a person and a musician. Student travel allows me the opportunity to create musical and social learning experiences that I couldn’t provide in my classroom alone.”

The special thing about these trips, Gibbons notes, are the learning experiences and relationship building that happen, between students or between staff and students.

“The thing I remember most is seeing the overall happiness the kids get from traveling and learning together. This trip is something that helps us recruit for our high school program, because kids see first-hand the types of fun musical and social-based experiences they can have by being in our groups.”

Gibbons realizes selecting the right travel company is critical and can make or break the experience, which is why he always enlists Mark Arslanian, with Brightspark Travel, to assist.

“That trusting relationship is so important,” Gibbons said. “The experience is always a positive and educational one! We wouldn’t be planning our 22nd trip for the spring if it wasn’t.”

Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for Teach & Travel.

This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of Teach & Travel.