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Teaching Through Traveling

Casey Stavenhagen and Fatimah Dixon

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Poster upon poster of military and veteran memorabilia fill the walls of the classroom. A photo of Ronald Reagan, to which she commonly refers to as Ronaldus Magmus, is hung next to her desk. Who might this person be? It is no one other than Jan Weston, Pre-AP Geography teacher.  

Although Weston is known by her current and former students as a traveling guru, she did not always start that way. Growing up, travel was an intangible dream she held onto, yet was never able to reach until her sophomore year of high school. It was during this time when she took a school trip to New York, that her interests in travel truly manifested.

“I got to go to New York City when I was a sophomore and I thought boy, I’d really like to go to places,” Weston said. “I always dreamed of being able to travel one day, and now I have completely filled up a passport and had to buy another one. If somebody said one day, you will have completely filled up a passport and started on another one, I would have thought, no way.”

With a renewed interest in travel, Weston took her first trip abroad to China. There, she spent her time working at an orphanage, which would be the same orphanage she worked at when she visited again a year later. Weston said she loved the charitable aspect of working at the orphanage, the historical feature of walking the Great Wall, and the simple allure of just going to China. However, she said her all time favorite place to travel is South Korea, where going to the DMZ and walking through the tunnels that few people ever get to see where some of the highlights of her trip. It is these experiences that Weston brings back to her classroom, where she incorporates photos and personal narratives of her travels into her lessons. 

“I bring all those anecdotal stories to the classroom,” Weston said. “It brings (the stories) to life. You just can’t get out of a book.”  

This past summer, Weston traveled to Ireland with 16 students. According to Weston, the students who went had such a great time they wanted to take another trip abroad. So, from this trip, a new expedition has been planned. This time it will be to Spain. However, as much as some students would like to go, their main obstacle is paying for the trip.  

“Money is money, but for the money you get do a lot,” Weston said. “If we can go when we hope to, which is June 4, we’ll go for $3,785.”

This payment includes the majority of expenses for the trip, such as plane tickets, dinner, and hotels, but lunch is not covered in this cost. If this fee is paid by Sept. 8, then students will get $100 off. In addition to this fee, there is an amount that can be paid for optional excursions on top of the already planned activities.

“We (will) fly into Barcelona,” Weston said. “I insist on good hotels in a good part of town and good food. Your guide will always be with you”

The trip’s agenda is a busy one, as traveling around the country and many exciting events are planned for all 11 days spent abroad. Included in the trip will be five sightseeing tours and three walking tours; however, if extensions are purchased, there will be six sightseeing tours and four walking tours. 

“To Ireland, we took kids who have never been on an airplane,” Weston said. “I just want as many kids to go as possible. If I just thought two kids were going I’d call it off. The more the merrier, really.”

There has been much interest from students in attending this trip, and Weston is allowing all students that are interested to go, given that they can pay the fee. Weston said this trip will be a great experience for all students that participate.

“You’re not in college yet, you don’t have all the expense of college yet. You’re not married with families, you’re not tied to a job,” Weston said. “It’s just a good time to travel, you’ll think ‘Man I wish I’d done that when I had the chance.’”

According to Weston, seniors that have an interest in traveling should utilize their final year in high school before many go off to college, and this trip to Spain is a good option. For students who are not currently seniors, Weston said she hopes to be able to provide similar senior trip opportunities for them as well, but they are just as welcome to come along on this trip to Spain.

“I hope this is not planned too quickly from last year,” Weston said. “When we went to Ireland, we had a year and a half. I’ll see if I have given kids enough time to plan. Let’s get the most bang for our buck.”

Ideally, Weston said she would like to be able to provide a cost efficient and exciting trip abroad for students every year. She encourages students to take these opportunities to travel, have more experiences in life, and to not be reluctant.

“I’m going to experience life,” Weston said. “Getting in your car and coming to school, you’re rolling the dice. There’s a lot to see, and I want it to be their trip of a lifetime.”

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Teaching Through Traveling