Traveling with hundreds of marching band students can sometimes be a headache, but with proper preparation and communication, your trip can go smoothly and without hold-ups. Band Director Matt Lovell from the Burlington (Mass.) High School "Red Devil" Marching Band shared some of his tips for efficient and speedy travel.
Before he even starts to pick a trip location, Lovell carefully evaluates that year's band—including the students' level of maturity, behavioral history and the strength of the student leaders.
"That's the key to it: the first thing is you have to make sure that the band you go with is a band that can take the responsibility of a trip," Lovell says "I know them at their best, and I know them at their worst. The question is not how they are at their best but how will they be at their worst. If I know that they will fulfill their responsibilities even when they're not 'on,' that's a group that can go."
Once Lovell has decided to go ahead and take a trip, he looks for a good travel planner or student tour operator related to the trip location, in this case, one with personal contacts at Walt Disney World and Boston Logan Airport.
"Travel has gotten a lot more complex since 2001," Lovell says. "We used to be able to be pretty happy with putting the trip together ourselves, but now we go with a travel planner who works specifically with bands, and it was much more successful."
Having a good group of parent chaperones is paramount, according to Lovell. He recommends at least one for every six to 10 students. "The boosters are absolutely key; if the boosters are not psyched to do the trip, you can't do the trip," Lovell says. "With such a big group, you need to have multiple leadership. Each student needs to know who their chaperone is personally and they can all tell quickly if they're missing."
Each morning, the entire group meets to discuss that days' meeting places and call times, and at each meeting place, the chaperones remind their students of the next one coming up. With today's technology, make sure everyone exchanges cell phone numbers in case someone is lost or forgets a call time. Most times, when someone misses a check-in time, it is accidental, or they are genuinely lost.
"There was one time a student got lost; that was very scary, and we held the entire group at the gate and waited till that person was found," Lovell says. "It has happened a couple times where we need to speak to students [about tardiness]. We isolate them and speak to them with all the parents there, and they understand it's serious business." Although rare, occasional disciplinary measures need to be taken. But to prevent that from happening, Lovell reminds his students year-round of the travel expectations.
"It's such a huge venture," he says. "Once the upperclassmen know it and internalize it, they set the tone and the younger students follow it," Lovell says. "If somebody does go out after curfew, we sit them down with the entire parent group. There's a whole bunch of things that can be done. There are times when people will be sent home at the parent's expense, so we make sure they know which infractions are intolerable."
Most of the time, students want to have a good time, and peer pressure alone is enough of an incentive to show up on time and behave well. Rules are rules, but Lovell encourages other band directors to take lots of video, photos, and make sure they enjoy the trip too.
"Every time we've gone, it's been so much fun, and the main thing is to get as much video footage as you can," he says. "I've met up with students from 20 years ago that still talk about the trip as something special in their lives that was very important."
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