Submitted by Mark A. Venuti
Mr. Casey Leads 175 Students To and From Nation’s Capital
On Tuesday, May 27th, the morning following Memorial Day weekend, long before the day long stand still traffic began on The Great Road, the parents of 175 8th grade students created a different traffic pattern, emerging from Railroad Ave and McMahon Rd, convening at the bus loop of the John Glenn Middle School at 5:30AM to see their sons and daughters off on four Yankee buses to visit our Nation’s Capital – lead by field trip organizer Joe Casey.
Bedford has been offering the DC field trip through the former junior high school and now middle school for 39 years. The idea of the DC trip was originated by former schoolteacher Mike Donovan in the mid-1970’s. Back then, the field trip was optional and occurred during the April school vacation. Mr. Donovan continues to participate in the process by volunteering as a chaperone and consultant every year.
In 1995, following Mr. Donovan’s retirement, Joe Casey was tapped by then JGMS principal, Tom Nolan, to assume the responsibility of managing the DC field trip. The field trip participation has grown significantly, with 90% – 95% of the students taking part. The event now occurs during a regular school week and has become part of the fabric and icon of the middle school curriculum. Joe Casey is the right man for the job; providing a combination of leadership skills and uncanny ability to relate to the students. An 8th grade Social Studies teacher at Bedford’s JGMS, Mr. Casey is completing his 19th year of teaching in Bedford and also lead his 19th year of organizing the school’s Washington DC field trip.
Mr. Casey believes that the 8th grade is a perfect time to conduct this adventure as the students are age appropriate, and he believes “it is a great way to cap off JGMS.” The event has become a big piece of the middle school experience; simultaneously providing learning and social experiences. For many students this is the first time they are traveling away from family.
How Does This Work?
The middle school works in conjunction with a touring company called WorldStrides, based in Charlottesville, VA. Founded in 1967, WorldStrides is the nation’s oldest, largest, and first student travel organization to be accredited as a school. The organization helps more than 270,000 students and 10,000 teachers each year experience learning beyond the classroom. JGMS also contracts with A Yankee Line, Inc., a premier bus line company in the east coast.
Aside from working with WorldStrides, the planning required by JGMS that goes into organizing a trip of this magnitude is substantial and consists of multiple steps and various faculty and other volunteers over the course of a full calendar year.
- Initial planning begins one year in advance with the school contacting the touring company to reserve a week in June for the following year.
- In September, detail discussions begin with WorldStrides on developing a preliminary itinerary and trip costs. Mr. Casey implies that it is impossible to capture all of Washington DC in one week; however, the objective is to strike a balance of trying to provide as much exposure as possible while still making the cost affordable for students. The cost of the trip this year ran at $669 per student that included hotel, tours, and food coupons. To reduce the cost burden on families, WorldStrides offers a payment plan of four installments throughout the school year. However, no student is denied access due to funding. JGMS maintains a scholarship fund to assist families in need of financial assistance.
- Following the production of a preliminary itinerary and cost plan, JGMS then must present the plan to the school committee to obtain formal approval to conduct the field trip.
- Once approved, Mr. Casey organizes an introductory meeting with the students in early Fall. At this time, students will begin to register for the event directly with WordStrides. Mr. Casey proudly exhibits a printout of the registered students on the wall outside his classroom during the school year with each student assigned a number in the order that their registrations were received by WorldStrides.
- Mr. Casey acknowledges the most challenging part of the organizing is generating the room assignments. Mr. Casey understands the sensitivity, anxiety, and stress of students at the middle school age. His approach to managing this process is that following registration, early in the school year, Mr. Casey asks every student to provide him with a “wish list” of who students would like to room with. There usually are four to five students per room. He will guarantee that each student will be grouped with at least one person that was on their list. This process is managed on a dynamic spreadsheet continuously throughout the year and doesn’t become final until the week of the field trip. Miraculously, the assignments always work out in the end.
- Throughout the year there is constant contact with WorldStrides. Mr. Casey credits Tina Desimone, who has been the account representative for the past five years, with coordinating this process and performing an outstanding job.
- In early spring, as the field trip approaches, JGMS holds an information session meeting with parents. At this time the bus lists and detailed itinerary are presented.
This Year’s Tour Events
The itinerary is no doubt, a very busy schedule – beginning with hotel breakfast starting at 7:30AM and concluding with nighttime check-in by 10:00PM. In between, there are a myriad of activities from site seeing, eating and recreation. Some of the historic sites visited were the Memorials of: FDR, Jefferson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Iwo Jima, WWII, Vietnam, 9/11 Pentagon, and Lincoln. Other places included the Holocaust Museum, National Archives, the gates of the White House, lunch at the Reagan International Trade Center and dinner at Union Station.
The highlights of the field trip occurred at the Capitol Building and Arlington National Cemetery. In addition to the Capitol Tour, WorldStrides organizes a group photo on the steps of the Capitol. Mr. Casey adds some entertainment to this process by appearing in the same photo “twice”, at each end of the picture. A panoramic photo is taken. After the camera passes by the first end, the photographer signals Mr. Casey and he ducks and runs to the opposite end appearing in the same position, therefore appearing twice once the picture is completed.
At Arlington National Cemetery, in addition to viewing the Kennedy gravesite, the group witnessed the changing of the guard and wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. This event is a significant piece of the field trip.
Four students are selected by a group of teachers representing the two 8th grade teams, green and gray, based on the strict criteria of the students’ work ethic and good citizenship within the middle school. The students selected from this year’s class were: Abby Brady, Robbie Meehan, Casey Millar, and Ny’Asia President. Proper dress code is required to participate in the ceremony. JGMS and WorldStrides communicate with the Department of The Army in the planning to make this happen.
Work Hard / Play Hard
Because the students and chaperones are kept on a busy schedule the entire week, Mr. Casey believes that some downtime be integrated into the itinerary. On Wednesday night the group rented out a nearby recreation center for a couple of hours where students have the chance to unwind. They can play basketball and go swimming in a pool with a 20 ft. high diving board.
Depth of Staff
Mr. Casey is responsible for selecting and identifying the teachers and chaperones to include on the trip. He usually likes to maintain an adult / student ratio of 1:15. He selects volunteers based on their enthusiasm, patience, and sense of humor. A core group that has been invaluable to the success of the event in recent years include: Sara Berinato, Constantine Georgeopolous, Allison Hammer, and Jim Nagle. In addition, Bedford police officer Steve Waite, who is stationed at the middle school, and officer Jeff Wardwell, of the high school volunteer their time and travel as chaperones with the group. Mr. Casey credits officers Waite and Wardwell of providing a fun and safe environment and their abilities to “break down the barriers” to form great relationships with the kids.
Emergency contact information must be collected and maintained on each student. Mr. Casey praises Joyce Marchesini as a “Godsend” to manage this process. Joyce has volunteered as the trip nurse for at least the past five years. In addition to maintaining binders of information, Joyce monitors medical conditions of any student.
Safety and Security
On the bus ride to Washington DC, students are fitted with colored bracelets that contain the phone numbers of WorldStrides located in New York City and Washington DC. Students are required to wear these throughout the entire tour. Hotel monitoring is taken very seriously at night. Chaperones, as well as security guards provided by WordStrides, monitor the hallways of occupied floors to ensure student safety.
Mr. Casey believes the Bedford DC program is one of the better field trips offered versus other communities for several reasons. There is camaraderie among the staff and the kids see it. There is great supervision, enthusiasm and extreme pride taken by all. He is confident that WorldStrides would agree also. The Bedford group stays outside of DC at the Hilton in Alexandria, VA, which is safer than where other towns reside. Bedford also has a wider cross section of students.
Eighth grade student, Katie Pinney, agrees the DC trip was both a social and educational trip; where seeing sites and museums first hand provides students the opportunity to learn about the terrible and good events in history.
Jacqueline Stevens, also an 8th grade student, commented that the field trip met and went beyond her expectations and that she loved taking the trip with her grade. Jacqueline believes that upcoming 8th graders should look forward to everything on this trip, especially bonding with friends and viewing the neat architectures and sculptures. Jacqueline got many things out of the experience including enjoying the fun on the bus rides and recreation center; but also the places visited provided her with an appreciation of the sacrifices made of many people.
Mr. Casey speaks very highly of this year’s 8th grade class. “The kids really embraced the experience. They were polite, respectful, followed the rules and they really nailed it.”
To cap off a successful adventure, those same parents who sent their students off early Monday morning, reconvened at JGMS on Friday, May 30th at around 10PM to patiently wait for their arrival; this time lead in dramatic fashion by a police escort beginning from Rt. 128, onto The Great Road, through Railroad Ave and into the JGMS bus loop. Throughout the afternoon and early evening, the anticipation was building for both parents and students as excited students communicated with parents and loved ones through text messaging on the location of travel and estimated arrival time.
Hats off to Joe Casey, the staff involved, volunteers, and especially the 8th graders themselves; who accomplished a great academic and social achievement on their way towards Bedford High School.