For over a decade, Joshua Sholler has been teaching and leading the music program at Reading Community Schools.
Sholler says he went on two student trips to Disney World with his band program while in high school, and it created life-long memories. “I knew that when I eventually had a band/choir program of my own, I would want to take my groups on trips to give them a similar experience,” Sholler said. In fact, he even uses the same tour operator as his high school director: Educational Tours, Inc.
Recently, Reading took an incredible trip to New Orleans with 60 students, and Sholler had an unforgettable time. We asked him to tell us more about the journey and his approach to student travel.
What inspired this trip and why did you go where you did?
My groups have traveled 4 separate times now. An overnight trip to Chicago in 2015 (one full bus), a multiple day trip to Disney World in 2017 (2 full buses), a multiple day trip to NYC (almost 3 full buses), and just recently we flew to New Orleans with 60 participants. We were supposed to go to Nashville in 2021 but the pandemic took its toll and cancelled that trip. I try to choose my destinations based on many different factors. Does the city have a history of music, what are the ‘things to do or see’ while we are there, what unique performance venue is available for our students to perform at?
How was the trip?
The trip was truly phenomenal from start to finish. I thought everything went exceptionally well and the planning was top notch as always. My students LOVED the entire experience! About a third of them have never left the tri-state area and a little over a third of them had never flown on an airplane before. This was an experience so many of them will never forget, nor will I.
Many of your students commented Monday was the highlight, can you tell us more about that?
We started the day by going to the swamp and taking a boat tour of a local bayou/river where the kids were able to see many alligators, birds, and other animals. It was awesome to have some ‘big boys’ swim right up next to the boat. From there, we went to the Riverwalk Outlets at the Port of New Orleans to eat lunch, shop and kill some time before heading over to the World War 2 Museum for our performance. The band and choir set-up in the courtyard of the museum with the band performing first, followed by the choir. I am always nervous when we perform for a crowd in a different city, as I worry that it will just be our chaperones watching us perform, but I was beyond thrilled that many other tourists and museum guests stopped to listen to both groups.
Each group had a terrific performance and then we had a short amount of time to explore the phenomenal World War 2 museum. This was seriously one of the best museums I have ever been to. After that, we hopped on the bus and went on our Steamboat cruise of the Mississippi while being entertained by a live jazz combo and enjoying an incredible New Orleans cuisine buffet. I was worried many of the kids would not try all of the new food but boy was I wrong… the kids raved about the food and a few even said it was one of the best meals they had ever had.
Did any one moment stand out?
During the jazz cruise, when the jazz group that was playing took a break, I asked one of the members if our choir could sing one of our songs for the crowd gathered on the top deck. They graciously agreed and so we gathered everyone up as quickly as we could and began singing an acapella arrangement of “Down by the Riverside.” About halfway through the song, an impressive and unexpected firework show starts going off along the river behind the group and it was as crazy and chaotic as you can imagine. It threw us off for a hot second and then we miraculously recovered and finished strong with fireworks in the background! The crowd went wild at the end.
What do you think makes ETI stand out?
Quite simply, the planning, organization, response time, customer service, and their absolute dedication to make sure students have the absolute best experience while traveling. ETI understands the magic of traveling with a group of students and works to create that magic in each trip they prepare and plan. I also believe they have an exceptional team that works together to get the job done. They also work to ensure the director can enjoy the trip too. Traveling with a large group of students can be stressful, but ETI tries to do everything in their power to help alleviate as much of that stress as possible.
Anything else you want to say to other educators considering travel?
Travel has been essential to building my program in Reading. We are a very small rural school with only one blinking yellow traffic light in town. Our graduating class is typically 50-60 students. There are many factors that have helped to grow my program, and traveling is a big one.
Our trips run on 2-year cycles, meaning we start planning our next trip soon and will announce this fall as we will travel again in 2025. This helps students to have more time to fundraise and for families to save. Traveling can open up a whole new world to your students. Lastly, because we are a small rural school with lower socioeconomic status and do not have the resources that a much larger school may have, there are many students who have traveled now with my group that may never get to have an experience like this ever again. To be able to provide the trips we have to our student population is a reward I will forever cherish.
This story was originally found in the September 2023 edition of Teach & Travel.