Educational travel blog
April 6, 2014
"...Thank me by paying it forward and giving someone else an opportunity they might not otherwise have."
A Former Teacher’s Perspective
Although I am now an educational consultant here at Passports, I spent many years in the classroom teaching History and AP History classes, so I wanted to discuss why traveling with students is so important.
Enough has been written about why the students need to go, such as the ideas that they’ll experience things most people only get to read about and that traveling will give them a global perspective.
Sabrina was a sophomore in my 10th grade Pre-AP World History class during the 2003-2004 school year. She was a good student, but never really had to work for her grades. That’s why she was in my class. Our guidance counselor had talked her into it, hoping that maybe some spark might give her direction. In most schools, Sabrina would have been looking at a bright future, planning for college and looking forward to being an adult. In most schools…
Sabrina had no such dreams. This was rural eastern NC, and Sabrina was African-American. She and 80% of her peers in our school were on free lunch. Our school had a dropout rate of over 40%. Her father was in prison, doing an 8-15 year stretch for manslaughter. Her mother was poor. She worked at the local hotel as a member of the janitorial staff. The family lived in a part of town where food stamps, WIC and welfare checks were a fact of life every month. Sabrina had three younger siblings. Her 14-year-old brother (a freshman) had a reputation with teachers and administrators coming from our middle school. In anticipation of having her own kids, that year Sabrina had signed up for the Parenting class. She had no aspirations of going to college. In many ways, Sabrina was like many kids from similar situations around the country.
I wanted to take students to Italy that next summer (2004) for the reasons I listed above. Honors and AP students, after all, were supposed to have these opportunities. I scheduled a meeting and talked up the trip in class. When Sabrina and her mother showed up at that meeting, needless to say I was a little surprised, but I figured she would never be able to go. Afterwards, when Sabrina said she was interested, I told her that I needed to talk to her mother privately.
Sabrina waited out in the hallway while I spoke with her mother. I was honest. The cost of the trip was over $3000 plus spending money. How could she ever afford it? I didn’t want to sign up Sabrina only to have her be disappointed when she had to cancel.
She had made choices in her life that she regretted, and she wanted this trip to show her daughter that there was something else out there. I asked her about the money. She said that if I would help her with fundraising, she would get the money. I called Sabrina back into the classroom and signed her up.
Amazingly, Sabrina came up with the money over the next couple of months. Every Monday, she would come to my classroom with a money order. They were always in different amounts. I later found out that to raise the money they held extra collections at her church. There was also a “collection jar” at her mom’s work. I later found out that she gave up Christmas and her birthday to help fund the trip. When June rolled around, Sabrina had an “A” in my class and she was ready for the trip. I asked her about spending money. Beaming with pride, she said she had saved almost $150 (for a 9-day trip to Italy). I just smiled. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that probably wasn’t enough.
The day after we arrived in Rome, we were touring the old Imperial City. As we walked into the Colosseum, Sabrina walked up to the huge cross that sits in the entrance. As she looked at it, she started crying and then she suddenly hugged me. She started telling me a story about an old woman at her church who had seen a picture of that cross and had brought it into the church, saying that it was a sign that Jesus wanted Sabrina to go. The money orders she had brought me every Monday were funded by other people. Many members of her church’s congregation took money away from their own families to send Sabrina on a trip when most of them could barely afford to keep the lights on. The only thing the old woman had asked for in return was a picture of that cross with Sabrina standing in front of it. I took the picture and then later found a place in Florence where I could get the film developed in an hour.
Sabrina went on to have a great time on tour. Nothing more was ever spoken about the old woman or her church the rest of the trip. She was just another kid. I made sure she bought something small for her mom before we left for home. When we arrived back in Raleigh, Sabrina had memories that would last a lifetime.
Her mom picked her up at the airport with another woman I thought was her grandmother. It wasn’t. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sabrina reach into her bag and pull out the picture I had taken. The old woman took it, smiled and then led them in prayer.
I slowly went over to them to introduce myself. The old woman pulled me aside. I could tell she wanted to say something to me. She looked me straight in the face and said that God had told her to help Sabrina. She then held out her hand, trembling. I took it. Before I could let go, she looked into my eyes and said that she had never shaken a white man’s hand. I was stunned. She said that God had told her to trust me. She didn’t understand why, but this was eastern NC, and even in the early days of the 21st century, that was still a big deal. When I asked for her name, she told me it was Pearl and then quickly dropped my hand. I smiled and guessed that progress only went so far.
Sabrina graduated two years later (after taking another class — AP European History — from me). She was the first person in her family ever to finish high school. I helped her fill out the FASFA online so she could go to the local junior college. She wanted to study history. I moved away, and took another teaching position in a different state during the summer before she started college. I never expected to hear anything from her.
Five years later, in early 2011, out of the blue I got an e-mail on my home e-mail address from Sabrina. She was graduating from UNC Pembroke with a BA in History and was getting her teaching certificate. She wanted to let me know that it had been a struggle. Her dad had gotten out of prison early, but her brother had recently taken his place, convicted on an assault charge after he started a fight in a bar.
She also let me know that Pearl had recently passed away. Sabrina had gone to the funeral, where my name came up. In the old woman’s casket in between her hands, they had put the picture I had taken of Sabrina in Rome… they said it was for the Angels. Sabrina just wanted to say thank you to me for taking her.
I emailed her back and told her to thank me by paying it forward and giving someone else an opportunity they might not otherwise have. I haven’t heard from her since.
You never know whom we might touch as teachers or how we might touch them. EVERY student needs to travel, to see the world, to see the opportunities, to see themselves. It’s our job to figure out how to get them there. We here at Passports understand what you do and why you do it. Keep up the good work.Category: For Teachers, Travel Tips, Travel Inspiration
passports Educational Group Travel partners with teachers across the United States to provide high-quality educational travel experiences to their students. Educational tours visit destinations around the world - primarily France, Italy, England, Spain and Costa Rica - at low, guaranteed prices.
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