HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


From The Executive Director

TOPICS : Israel Students

A message from RAVSAK Executive Director, Dr. Marc N. Kramer

Chevre:

As I am fond of saying, RAVSAK must be one of the single best Jewish organizations for which to work. Each day, the staff is presented with opportunities great and small to contribute to the ongoing success of the Jewish future. Each year we have the tremendous joy of knowing that hundreds of our students will partake in school trips to Israel and other destinations – trips that will serve as watershed events in their Jewish identify formation. Of course, this is second-hand naches as it is you who organize the trips and accompany the children and young teens.

From our perch, we have identified three critical issues that inform successful trip planning and implementation.

Parent Buy-In

At the 2006 RAVSAK Leadership Conference, Joe Septimus challenged us to think about who the “client” is in the work we do. When the topic is Hebrew language, the client is the student. When the topic is using the Hebrew learned in class on Ben Yehuda Street, the client is the parent. Parents and guardians should be involved from the inception. Parents of participating students as well as future student travelers should be given real roles and meaningful work in service of goal setting, trip planning, fund raising, and when appropriate, accompanying students.

Schools should inquire as to their experiences as student travelers as a means of discovering parental concerns in the context of parental hopes and dreams. In addition to asking students to keep travel logs, schools might consider asking parents to write about their experience of watching their children learn and grow through travel. Do you remember how different you were after your first trip to Israel?

Safety and Security

In our increasingly chaotic world, the expression “safety first” takes on new meaning. Before asking about cost, kashrut or itinerary, schools simply must first inquire as to the security measures taken by a given tour provider. The real issues of security must be drawn from the deep sea of the imagined issues and conveyed to parents and students alike. Families need to know that their children will be safe; students need to understand the rationale for the travel guidelines you will impose. It is essential that schools remember that waivers of liability may not indemnify you to the degree you think, and of course, no waiver has any real meaning if, G-d Forbid, a student were injured.

Adult-to-student ratios should be revisited with groups of traveling students. Our students and classes each and collectively have varying needs and degrees of maturity and sophistication. Likewise, the nature of the travel itself (domestic versus international) dictates the ratio to some degree. The balance to be struck is how best to protect students while allowing for the greatest amount of appropriate autonomy.

Cost

Not a semester goes by without at least one call from a dismayed parent who lacks the financial capacity to afford a student trip above and beyond tuition. Like school itself, travel is costly and with rare exceptions, there are few philanthropic foundations currently interested in supporting 8th grade trips to Israel.

Schools have come up with a wide variety of mechanisms for dealing with travel costs. One model is to add $250 per year to every year of tuition prior to the year of travel, such that students with school longevity will have “saved” for the trip. Some schools have worked closely with their local Federations to receive student subsidies or to subvent the cost of chaperone travel. In a number of communities, families affiliated with local synagogues find travel scholarships are available through their congregations. Most schools encourage the students themselves to participate in fund raising efforts, although these undertakings tend to be limited in measurable profit, especially given the amount of requisite time and work.

I would suggest three cost-related issues not be overlooked: When possible, trip fees should be structured such that each student is charged slightly more than the actual per-person cost, creating from those who can afford the trip a subsidy for those for whom the cost is a significant burden. Attempt to reduce costs related to lodging through home hospitality (camping can be as – if not more- expensive than a tourist class hotel). Finally, be forthright with prospective tour providers about what your families can afford and do not hesitate to negotiate with them prior to signing a contract.

All of the critical issues are served well with clear educational goals, confident, consistent communications, and effective planning. Keep in mind the words of the Congressional Record from March of 2003: “Student travel is a vital component of the educational process and should be encouraged so that Americans, young and old, can participate in travel, the perfect freedom.”

Nesiyah tovah (travel well).

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