"Stratford, Oxford, Bath, London (and more!) in just over a week!" reads the poem on black, long-sleeved T-shirts worn by several students and teachers at Greenbrier High School.
Sixteen students, one other teacher, and I explored The Landscapes of England this summer on what turned out to be an amazing trip through the history of England, London, and, as the shirt reads, much more.
Both English teachers at Greenbrier High, Amy Herndon and I, organized the trip for a group of rising seniors through EF Tours, a company that specializes in student travel. We ventured out on the inaugural trip on May 30 and returned on June 8. The success of this first trip begins what we hope will be a long tradition of taking students to explore England.
The Landscapes of England Tour highlighted sites in southern England and London and mixed major historical sites with modern experiences. A typical day employed two major stops. For example, we began one day exploring Stonehenge and finished by touring the Salisbury Cathedral. Another day began in the Roman baths but ended in a trendy shopping district watching street performers and buying World Cup apparel.
We toured the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, where King Arthur was supposedly buried, and climbed Glastonbury Tor, a more than 500-foot hill, where legend tells us the Knights of the Round Table are buried. In Stratford we took a "pilgrimage" to William Shakespeare's grave after touring Anne Hathaway's home and Shakespeare's birthplace. Another pilgrimage was made to Canterbury, where we saw the path of the knights who martyred Thomas Becket and the impressions in the stone stairs where thousands journeyed afterwards to see his shrine.
We climbed the tower at Warwick Castle, taking in views of the English countryside, saw the armory and torture chamber, falcons and peacocks, and walked through English gardens. A few also took a tower ghost tour for a different experience. While at Leeds Castle, we saw England's famous black swans and ran a hedge maze that ends in a grotto.
In London we toured St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London and the Tate Modern Museum of Art, saw the Globe Theater, rode the London Eye and went to an authentic medieval dinner. We spent several hours in Westminster Abbey, walked through Trafalgar Square, shopped and ate in Piccadilly Circus, and one student got a picture of Queen Elizabeth as her car left Buckingham.
Traveling with high school students turned out to be a very rewarding and exciting experience because they were energetic, flexible and enthusiastically dealt with a fast pace and sometimes-meager accommodations. Witnessing students' reactions to seeing something particularly important or beautiful and seeing them truly embrace learning, running around and playing all at once was fun beyond words; these kids knew they were lucky to have this opportunity, and they didn't take it for granted.
After our return, rising Greenbrier High senior Allison McAlevy said, "I'm so glad that I was able to go! My favorite part of the trip was getting to see the city of London and all of its diversity. I also loved all the architecture I saw while in England. All of the beautiful cathedrals we saw ... were amazing inside and out! "The trip was one I will never forget. It made me want to live there one day. The places we saw were incredible, and I will always be able to say that I went there. Also, I think actually being in England will help me understand my senior Lit class better."
When reflecting on our adventure, Amy Herndon said, "We had really high expectations for this trip about how much fun we would have, the beautiful historical sites we would visit and the great learning experiences of international travel. Our experiences, for both the students and the teachers, were surpassed. We had a fantastic time."
Now that we have returned home, Herndon and I both think about how excited we are to take next year's group, knowing what a rich and rewarding experience it will be and knowing how much fun we will have.
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