Roundtable Recap: Thoughts from Educators
Heading into 2022, the future remains unclear.
While we know student travel is returning, the process is a slow and difficult one, as questions of safety remain. To discuss what issues are top of mind in the year ahead, SYTA recently gathered a group of educators from across the U.S. and Canada for a roundtable.
Their concerns were quite different depending on the locale. One Southern California teacher said her trips are being held back entirely by insurers, who won’t approve essentially any travel at the moment. As one educator said, “Omicron has set us so far back. Every time we think there’s a step forward, there’s one backward too.” Meanwhile, other educators don’t have to worry about insurers at all, and instead are struggling to convince the school board or administration.
While we don’t have all the solutions yet, here are some of the key takeaways and issues to come out of that discussion:
From Canada’s perspective, the states’ different rules are confounding. At this point, 50 different states with 50 different COVID situations is simply too much for Canadian educators to keep track of. They suggested that’s where U.S. operators could help, by compiling and disbursing that information.
Safety is by far the biggest concern, much more so than discussing the “benefits of travel.” It’s not so much that educators are afraid to travel, but their board and parents remain skeptical. These people are the ones who need to be shown that travel is being done safely at this very moment, even if it doesn’t look like it. As one educator said, “We don’t need to convince our districts or parents about the benefits of travel. That’s blowing in the wind, they’ve drank the Kool Aid. Instead, it’s the issue of safety, and if it will be insured.”
On the plus side, we’ve seen student travel happen successfully. One educator referenced a recent competition with 3,500 students, and only one tested positive. It goes to show that students are used to following the right precautions at this point, and they’re likely being safer than most adults. “We just need, I think, to make sure that the administrators understand that the industry is ready and has been running, even if they’ve been kind of not. There’s a lot of travel already happening.”
Some outside influence could help teachers. One educator said, “I get the sense that boards don’t tend to listen to teachers. I don’t know if they do in the States, but in Canada, decisions come at a much higher level than the ‘lowly’ high school teacher.” On the other hand, boards may not solely trust tour operators either, as they have a financial stake in making travel happen. Working with organizations like SYTA or other experts may help your case.
Some schools are only approving travel for competition, for better or worse. “I think there’s always been a bias towards sports and competitions — music programs have a lot of major competitions, state finals and things. It seems, for whatever reason, competition is considered more worthy than just an educational experience.”
Safety certification may help. As one educator suggested, a certification program showing that operators are going above and beyond to commit to safety could hold sway in convincing decision-makers.