Mary Kynett, currently with Dunecrest American School in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, completed 25 years of teaching in Montana, at Hobson Public School and Lewistown Junior High School. She taught Montana and United States history and physical education in both schools and has a double major in PE and K-8 elementary classroom.
“My love for history got me interested in student travel. I haven’t looked back since.”
Kynett first traveled with students as a parent chaperone with her daughter, who was in high school. “I fell in love with the educational piece of teaching outside of the classroom walls. I started the travel program in the middle school in 2004 and have been traveling with students ever since.” With her students she’s traveled mostly to New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., though she added Europe for high school students in 2016.
She likes the independence educational travel brings to students who may be leaving home without family for the first time. They manage their own money, follow directions and learn from peers. Giving them the opportunity to embrace confidence and maneuvering a large city they’ve never been in is powerful, Kynett notes.
“I appreciate the excitement students feel when seeing living history: Standing on the spot where MLK gave his famous speech, touring the inside of the capitol building and watching a new bill being introduced is truly amazing. When the student’s eyes light up and they realize what we’ve been studying in class is real and they can touch it, it opens their mind to a bigger and better appreciation for history and the world around them.”
Kynett’s most rewarding experience traveling with students came through one girl who had never left home and raised all the money herself, as her family couldn’t afford to pay. “Her eyes were opened to a bigger world than she imagined. In high school, she applied to be an exchange student. Before she left on that educational experience, she told me it all stems from traveling to D.C./New York in middle school—and what she saw then with me inspired her to learn more about the world we live in.”
The challenges of student travel, too, offer experience. Some occur when leaders and students haven’t communicated fully about expectations.
“If the leader hasn’t laid out guidelines and behavior expectations, things can go sour quickly. I’ve had students detained by security for misbehaving in museums and adults doing their own thing and having the group have to wait for them, because they didn’t listen to directions. Not having enough hotel rooms reserved or the bus breaking down is all part of travel. Students see that even though things aren’t always going smoothly, you can still learn from those lessons.”
Kynett adds that living in a small community, they try to center fundraisers around existing school activities, such as a music concert. “We’ll have a spaghetti feed before the concert. Everyone has to eat—and they are coming to the school anyway—so this is a win-win situation. We aren’t asking people to buy something they don’t need. We have found great success in doing this type of fundraiser.”
On another practical and important note, Kynett advises telling student travelers to expect the unexpected, because travel has no guarantees.
“Have a positive attitude and be flexible. Have good communication prior to traveling and set your expectations high.”
The Power of Working with a SYTA Member Tour Operator
Mary Kynett appreciates working with program director and guide George Mastrovaselis, of Academic Expeditions, noting his love of travel, guidance, and caring for students. “There are not enough kind words to describe George. He brings light to a rainy day and positive energy to all situations. His ability to troubleshoot problems on tour is also amazing. Anyone traveling with George will have an amazing experience and Academic Expeditions is a top-notch professional company that makes sure students are safe and having the best experience possible in the cities they travel to.
“When you want to feel like part of a family, Academic Expeditions and George give you this peace of mind. You are in great hands with both.”
An Amusing Memory
“Montana doesn’t have indoor shopping malls that are more than one story. I took my student group to the Pentagon City Mall that is five stories tall, with shops my kids have never heard of, as a jaw-dropping experience. The students couldn’t believe it and one girl said, ‘Can we spend the night here?’ When you live in a rural state, even a shopping experience can be eye-opening!”
Written by Amy L Charles, Editorial Director for Teach & Travel.
This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Teach & Travel.