Christine Frisch is the digital marketing coordinator at Brightspark Travel. She recently spent two days touring Chicago with a Michigan-based middle school. Read about her experience!
First stop: The Museum of Science and Industry. Excited to meet the group!
Two minutes. That’s about the length of time it took me to fully grasp exactly how much goes into executing an exceptional student tour. Why two minutes? Upon arriving to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the first stop on the agenda, I was immediately launched into organizing museum tickets and meal vouchers. Eager to begin my very first on-tour experience, I beat the buses to the museum and started sorting the various vouchers right away. This may not seem like a demanding task — but when you have less than 10 minutes to sort through 350+ students tickets and categorize them into groups of six for each coach bus — a new level of pressure occurs. It was during that sorting process when I experienced my first of many eye-opening moments while on tour.
The coach busses have arrived!
I had the honor and pleasure of joining Seneca, a Michigan-based middle school, on their end-of-the-year trip to Chicago with the seventh graders. Yes, you heard correctly before, a whopping 350+ students in the seventh grade class alone. The trip is led by Seneca math teacher Mr. Brian Hadfield, and coordinated by Brightspark's Tour Consultant Josh Bruman. "The teachers at Seneca are organized, fun, and make the trip great for the students," Bruman said. "My favorite part about the recent trip was the responsibility and character of the students — they did a good job of representing their community of Macomb Township."
Not only does this middle school have an impressive amount of students, but they also have an extremely fun, polite and overall awesome group of seventh graders. Geared up in their orange backpacks and lanyards, their excitement was inspiring to witness as they exited the coach busses and headed into the museum.
The real U-505 submarine, captured and secured in the museum.
The Museum of Science and Industry: It was nearly lunchtime when the group arrived, so the students enjoyed lunch and then quickly were off to explore. The largest science center in the Western Hemisphere truly lived up to its reputation. The museum is home to the Apollo 8 spacecraft, U-505 submarine, and many exhibits such as the Great Train Story, Science Storms, Mirror Maze, and much more. One of my personal highlights was the Omnimax Theatre, where students were divided into two groups to see either the Great White Shark or National Parks Adventure. I was with the group that saw the Great White Shark film, which revealed facts about these mysterious animals through the eyes of professional divers and scientists.
Believe it or not, this picture took less than 15 minutes to take. Impressive, right?!
Buckingham Fountain: We then ventured over to the beautiful Buckingham Fountain and managed to get a great group shot with everyone. I was impressed with how timely and orderly the students were when taking this picture. Fun fact: While in operation, every hour on the hour for 20 minutes, the fountain produces a major water display and the center jet shoots 150 feet into the air.
Students taking advantage of the Skydeck views with a few selfies.
Willis Tower and John Hancock Center: Due to the massiveness of the group, the students were divided in half to visit either the Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower) or the John Hancock Center. I was with the group that visited the Skydeck and the view from the top of the tower was simply stunning. The majority of students have never been to Chicago, let alone to one of the tallest buildings in the country, so watching the students take in the experience of being at the top of the city was an absolute blast.
Students enjoying "The Bean." Creative shot, ladies!
The Bean: The Cloud Gate, or more commonly known as "The Bean," was our meeting spot to get the whole group back together again. Students explored the area and enjoyed the Windy City. This iconic sculpture weighs 110 tons and made of super-polished stainless steel plates, showing off Chicago's stunning skyline in its reflection. Of course, we did not forget to take an obligatory Bean photo.
Cheers to feasting and jousting!
Medieval Times: For our last adventure of the day, we journeyed back to the 11th century with an exhilarating combination of fun, feasting, and some healthy “jousting.” Medieval Times proved to be an entertaining experience for all. We ate our meal the medieval way — without utensils and all. The students were such great sports and glowing with comradery.
Panoramic view from the second floor of the Field Museum.
The Field Museum: The second day of the trip, students were immersed in natural science and history at the Field Museum. Dedicated to natural sciences, the museum contains several educational exhibits including Before the Dinosaurs, Creatures of Light, Eternal Egypt, Natural Wonders, and so much more. Students also met Sue — the world's largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The original Gino’s East, everyone.
The Original Gino’s East: We were lucky to have lunch at the original Gino's East, located close to the city’s popular Magnificent Mile. Students indulged in Chicago-style deep dish pizza and mingled with their peers. Needless to say, no one was left hungry.
Tour Consultant Josh Bruman giving the group a quick run-down.
Shedd Aquarium: Home to aquatic creatures from all over the world, the Shedd Aquarium educated students about the waters of the earth as its residency on the shore of Lake Michigan. Popular animals to see among the kids included the anaconda, jellyfish, stingrays, and sea lions, to name a few.
Students getting ready to board the water taxi.
Water Taxi: Another one of my favorite parts of the tour — traveling from the Shedd Aquarium to the Navy Pier via water taxi. The boat transportation was a great way to take in the city views and all the architecture that Chicago is known for. I imagine this type of travel could be an inexpensive and perhaps even a convenient way for local commuters to get around. Overall, the ride was a great way to experience the Windy City.
The sensational Navy Pier.
Navy Pier: Our last attraction on the itinerary was the Navy Pier. Students had time to hang with their friends, and grab dinner on their own. It was the perfect day — not only has the Pier recently finished its new remodeling, but we also lucked out with fantastic weather.
Some of the dedicated teachers and chaperones that made this trip possible.
Science teacher Ms. Beth Reinhold, finishing her fifth year teaching at the school, found that the most valuable part of the trip for the students was exposing them to life without their parents. "The kids had to make meal decisions, and they had to be responsible for waking up on time, getting ready, and being at the bus on time in the morning," Ms. Reinhold said. "They also had to manage their own money at all the gift shops we went to. Of course they learned things and gained knowledge, but the real-world experience I think really is where I see the kids benefitting most."
The teachers and chaperones inspired me with how much time and effort they put into making sure their students got the most out of their educational tour. Learning didn't stop at the Chicago attractions — teachers and Brightspark tour guides teamed up to create an educational environment on the bus rides by playing trivia games. This is just one example of many when these teachers gave their all throughout the trip. Hats off to you guys!
Tour Consultant Josh Bruman, myself and Tour Guide Jerry.
Now that I have finished the Chicago tour, I feel very grateful for having had the opportunity to travel with such a wonderful group of individuals. On behalf of Brightspark Travel, thank you to all the dedicated teachers, parents and chaperones for making this educational Chicago trip such a success. And thank you to the students for making this trip so enjoyable to be a part of. We look forward to next year's tour!