I distinctly remember the bright-pink cherry blossoms and invigorating sense of opportunity as we rolled into the District of Columbia. As only one of five eighth graders who tagged along on the 10th-grade class trip, I was beyond excited. My classmates and I were only months away from new high school freedoms — elective classes, work-based learning, AP courses and more travel opportunities.

There’s nothing quite like seeing the house President John Adams slept in. The first stone was laid in 1792, and it took eight years to finish enough of the White House for it to become livable. As we got into position for a group photo outside the property’s gate, our teacher told us early Americans called the grandiose home the “President’s Palace” and then the “President’s House.”

Even from a distance, admiring the residence in person made me wonder what it would be like to speak at a podium overlooking that lush, green lawn. In that moment, the sentiment became less of a dream-like fantasy and more of a proposed reality.

It was then I understood my generation would become our world’s future leaders — astronauts, doctors, software engineers, teachers and scientists. Some would become journalistic editors like myself, and yes, some would even work in legislative offices. I became inspired and confident in my ability to make a difference in the world if I listened to the lessons travel could teach me.

Moving forward

In recent weeks, we all have learned how remarkably imperative it is for our students to grow globally minded. Through COVID-19, the world’s most innovative minds have successfully planned delivery routes by drone, converted perfume factories into sanitizer production lines and developed ventilators with scuba masks.

As I write this, all but five states have mandated a shelter-in-place order. Millions of students have been asked to do what might have been unthinkable only a month ago: don’t go to school, cancel your class trip, stay away from your friends and turn down soccer practice. Our youth is watching the world rapidly change before their eyes. What unfolds from this pandemic, such as online tools, new hygienic norms, unprecedented laws and a decline in polarization, will live on throughout their adult lives.

Destinations and their attractions have demonstrated their creativity, offering innovative ways to connect with student groups through virtual tours and lessons. The current middle and high school generation is characterized by this technology, and expresses its expectation of instant communication and feedback, developed through apps like Snapchat and Instagram. This same generation sees the power of working collaboratively to solve the world’s greatest challenges — climate change, clean water and mental health. Presently, they’ve seen collective self-isolation to protect older members of their communities.

The crisis has raised a host of questions: Is remote learning possible for every school and youth group? How can educators, parents and group leaders make this uncertain time a more meaningful experience? How will the virus change student travel forever?

Rising together

I hope each of you take a moment to applaud yourself on your demonstration of daring leadership, creativity and newfound resourcefulness. You may have canceled your spring semester trips, but you also have overcome unprecedented challenges. Perhaps you recently learned to connect with student groups through instant messenger or how to conduct a science experiment through video conference. You may have even led a virtual music rehearsal or concert.

As you grapple with new ways of virtually communicating with students, let’s reflect on how this disruption can help us define what educational tours of the future can look like. It is our responsibility to think ahead, because although time seems to be at a standstill, this spring’s eighth-grade class will become autumn’s high school freshmen. And our beloved seniors will be the first class to discuss at a university-level why their high school graduation was canceled.

Student Group Tour magazine is committed to providing content that inspires educational travel, because we know it is imperative to education. We’re confident travel is an investment, not an expense, and we see now more than ever how we must prepare citizens for an interconnected world. Our future leaders will navigate boundaries and leverage their differences to globally collaborate unlike any generation before them. Through travel, students put the skills they have acquired in classrooms into practice. They gain cultural perspective and a strong independence no other teaching method can impart.

We want every child to envision life under the cherry blossoms on Pennsylvania Avenue; that’s why we’ll continue to encourage future tours that change lives. Now is the time to plan the student trip of a lifetime, and we’re proud to provide you with inspiration to get you started.

Together, let’s build itineraries for student travel’s newly imagined future. I know next year’s trips will be more fun and educational than ever.

Sincerely,
Courtney Birchmeier, editor in chief

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Courtney Birchmeier oversees the editorial department at Group Tour Media. With half a decade under her belt in the group travel industry, she's eager to connect tour operators and group leaders with new destinations. It's a great day at the office if her dog, a chow/lab mix named "Kiwi," is in tow. In her free time, she enjoys reading (for fun, with no red pen in hand), sampling craft beer (New Holland Brewing's "Dragon's Milk," anyone?) and adding new destinations to her travel bucket list (like Salzburg, Austria).