We know that young people who experience certain formative life lessons before they are launched into independence have a considerable advantage over their peers.
These lessons are not the ones measured by SAT or ACT scores. They are not lessons learned by being plugged into an electronic medium for hours a day. They can only be experienced by taking controlled risk, moving outside one’s comfort zone, and expanding one’s horizons.
Demand for alternative “camp” experiences has skyrocketed in the last 20 years, and teens frequently are choosing travel and community-service experiences, which are now a requirement in many high schools.
But how do you find the right – and safest – student travel company for your child?
The Internet has provided a space for students and parents to find thousands of opportunities to travel and experience the world. It also comes with its own set of problems. Google is great for getting results, not so great for discerning who is actually going to be able to guide and care for your child when they are half way around the world.
Did you know?
There are no federal regulations when it comes to summer camps.
There is little to no policing regarding staff training for camps when it comes to making sure that those in charge of campers and students are experienced, qualified and trained to do their jobs. This makes it even more important to perform your due diligence. Rules vary greatly from state-to-state. Six states don’t require camps to be licensed at all. Another 28 states don’t require criminal background checks of program employees.
According to the American Camp Association only 25 percent of camps in the U.S. are accredited. Accreditation indicates that a camp has voluntarily allowed our practices to be compared with over 300 standards established by professionals in the camp industry and that we have met or exceeded those standards. Courts of law and government regulators recognize the ACA standards, which often go beyond the requirements of state and federal laws, as the standards of the camp industry. (The Road Less Traveled has been accredited since our inception, and you can read about our rigorous training and safety standards here.)
For programs that travel with students the facts are even more troubling. Any organization or person can legally call themselves a “travel program, summer abroad experience or a travel camp.” There are no regulations that prevent any adult from gathering a group of teens together and traveling to the far off reaches of the earth.
Do Your Homework!
1. Look beneath the surface. Get to know the directors personally. Really know them. Ask the tough questions, the ones that concern you the most.
2. Ask probing questions. Are the directors’ and program’s philosophies in agreement with your own personal values? How did they come to be in this line of work? It takes a special organization and leadership so focused on your child they’re willing to invest in the experience in ways other programs are not.
3. Check for accreditation. If they’re accredited, what is their score? If you are told no, then find out why not. If a camp is accredited, they are required to pass hundreds of different health and safety standards before they receive accreditation.
4. Consider how the will program contribute to your son or daughter’s development. How will it help with personal development, getting a future summer job, or even with college admissions and inevitably leaving home?
5. Get 21st Century References. You can always get additional insight into a program by talking to former participants, but in 2014 parents and teens can get a much better unfiltered view by searching through blogs and social media channels.
6. Vet the staff. Ask how the summer camp recruits, hires and then screens its employees. Do they do criminal background checks? Training and professional experience of counselors is particularly important even more so in travel and specialty programs.
7. Check emergency procedures. Do they provide training on transportation abroad, evacuation, natural disaster, vehicle accidents and other obstacles that one could face abroad? Are there safe houses established and EAP’s (Emergency Action Plan) in place? (See RLT’s emergency preparation here>>).
8. Review medical procedures and standards. What level of medical and skill certification do the instructors have in case of emergency? Are all instructors required to have a minimum of Wilderness First Responder Certification or higher, not just the top instructors?
9.How long would it take to reach medical care? Are there protocols in place for transportation and emergency medical procedures such as standing orders? Any travel further away than two hours from definitive medical care is considered to be a remote location and in such instances medical protocols change.
10. Review transportation requirements. Are leaders’ driving records reviewed? How are employees trained to in the mode of transportation they will be using? What types of transportation will your child be exposed to?
11. Check camper to staff ratios. What are the programs ethics on group size and is the staff to camper ratio one you are comfortable with? Training, group size and ratios ensure the quality and safety your child will experience.
12. Discipline. Is there a progressive model for discipline in place that ensures the emotional as well as the physical safety of your child.
Yes, these difficult questions. And yes, there are risks leaving home, there are also risks staying at home. So why should you still consider travel?
Simply – it is the best way to learn.
Traveling allows us to face our fears and test our limits, and in the process, builds self-confidence and maturity. Travel allows us to contribute to and be part of a larger group and world, as we live with others independent of home and family. It builds tolerance and understanding, and an ease and comfort, as we relate with cultures, faiths and countries different from our own.
Doing this under the umbrella of a responsible student travel company ensures that all of these risks are minimized.
On the Road Less Traveled, our students return home with excitement, new ideas, and something more to offer — to their schools, communities, and to the world. They have an adventure to share, a story to tell, inspired by a world and people they never knew existed.
If that doesn’t convince you…remember, there has never been a greater need to empower young people to achieve their full potential and become agents of change, no matter how large or small. It’s worth the investment.