One of the questions that we often get from teachers is: do you work with middle schools? The answer: yes!
We love working with middle school students and embrace the special challenges and opportunities that traveling with this age group provides. An experiential learning program can have especially profound effects on younger, pre-teen students. As any middle school teacher knows, middle school encompasses years of exponential growth on all levels. Taking students outside the classroom and providing them with opportunities to expand their comfort zone, build confidence, and broaden perspectives at a young age can help them enter high school with a stronger personal and educational foundation. It can also spark life-long interests- from language study, to service work, to conservation and ecology.
When planning a travel program for middle school, it’s important to take several factors into account- just as you would when planning a classroom curriculum. One of these is your destination. For most middle school students, the ideal destination is a “stepping stone” to our wide world. Typically, a destination should be accessible- a less than 8 hour plane ride/travel time is ideal. This may be the first time on a plane for some students, and will likely be the first time away from family for most. Choosing a (relatively) close destination, and minimizing the inevitable challenges of airports, suitcases, and flight changes, can help students and families focus more on the experience and less on the apprehension of travel. While we believe that the expedition experience is about more than just the destination, some of our favorite picks for Middle School trips are Costa Rica, Belize, Southern Appalachia, and Taos, New Mexico. On how to travel with us, go here.
Each of these places are accessible, unique, exciting, and offer a wealth of program options- from physical challenges like whitewater rafting on the Rio Grande- to social and cultural engagement opportunities like clog dancing with Appalachian musicians. Trip length is also worth considering- we find that 8-10 days is a great time frame for middle school travel: long enough to soak in the experience and allow time and space for a variety of activities, but not too long to struggle with fears of being away from home (which once on expedition, have usually have disappeared by day 3, thanks to our Expedition Mentality and intentional approach to group cohesion!). It is very important to balance the itinerary- no matter what your destination or your trip focus, middle school students need a carefully considered mix of physical activity combined with slower paced cultural or language focused experiences.
Finding this balance can ensure that students are engaged, having fun, and learning while meeting new challenges and trying new things. As teachers know, the way in which you share information with middle school students is critical. We train our guides on age-appropriate, dynamic teaching, with a focus on student lead learning. Our middle school guides share information in short segments, and connect everything back through the Story Approach- our narrative style that links the wealth of information and experiences gained on a trip back to a central theme. We also pair our guides with middle school groups based on their personalities- we understand that younger students need socio-emotional support, and nurturing, patient educators that also know when the time is right to get a little bit silly : ). Just as being a Middle School teacher can be challenging, surprising, and deeply rewarding, (check out here for more on what you can gain by traveling with students) so too can taking younger students out into the world.
When carefully planned, a Middle School travel experience can leave an enduring educational impact on young people who are our future leaders.