Winter vacation in Memphis or spring break touring the East Coast; these are the fates for some Eastern Iowa high school students. But these excursions aren’t about visiting family — they’re the perks of being involved in school activities.
Fifteen members of the varsity cheer squad at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids already are practicing a new routine for their performance at the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., on Dec. 31. They’ll share the field with other squads, marching bands and the Temptations, doing choreography by Bonnie Story of "High School Musical" fame.
"We’re not a huge part of the halftime, but just to be part of that is amazing, and to be invited, that was the big deal," said coach Sherren Huston.
While the students are in Memphis, they’ll spend time rehearsing, performing, marching in the Beale Street Parade and even going to a New Year’s Eve party.
Huston said she has scheduled some enrichment activities for the squad, including a trip to the Memphis Zoo.
"The zoo is going to be the educational part," said 17-year-old senior Shelby Briney, who is more excited about visiting Graceland. "It’s still going to be a fun trip."
Cedar Rapids Community School District policy states that "trips should be carefully planned to operate in conjunction with and help to enrich the curricular/co-curricular program."
"There’s life experiences and educational experiences that take place as part of the travel," said Jefferson High School Principal Chuck McDonnell. "It ends up being a benefit to the student."
Getting the opportunity to perform is the main drive for Greg Grove, a choral director at Iowa City High School, to take his students out of state.
"I really would have no interest in that," Grove said of a trip that didn’t include a performance element. "I’ve been on some that are hosted by other groups and they say, ‘We just use it as a reward for the students’ and I think, ‘It’s about opportunities for the students.’ That’s just a philosophy I have."
Grove is still figuring out the details of a planned spring excursion to New York City for juniors and seniors, but he already has confirmed that the group will sing in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity Wall Street.
Performance experience isn’t the mission for student musicians at Solon High School, whose spring trip will take them across the East Coast.
"We learned a few trips ago that the reward of playing at some of the venues we visited is not worth the cost of what could’ve been done on that trip," said Joel Foreman, the school’s choral director. "What we try to do is provide a balance between letting some kids have some fun and see the world ... What we try to provide is a high-level experience in the arts."
The almost 100 vocal and instrumental music students in grades nine through 12 who have committed to go on this school year’s trip — which includes stops in Pennsylvania, New York and Boston — will not do any organized performances at all.
Students will instead gain exposure to the arts through seeing a performance of "Wicked" on Broadway and attending a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert — though Foreman promised there also will be plenty of "playtime" between visits to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the National Constitution Center.
"What we like is if kids would tell you ‘I didn’t feel like it was an educational trip,’ " Foreman said. "Social norms are something that can be education no matter where you are or what you’re doing ... They’re not sitting at a desk being lectured to. They’re experiencing it. They’re living it."