“We don’t travel every year, so I feel it is important to design a trip that is fairly monumental for the kids,” said Hammond, recently recalling the experience. “Of course we are a music program, so traveling to a place so steeped in music culture was a draw. And the city was also appealing because there is a school similar to ours in mission and structure,” he said, referring to the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.
“But something else just kept me thinking this was the time to see New Orleans, especially a few years post-Katrina,” Hammond said.
“Since 2005 the student market has increased dramatically,” said Lisa Holland, a member of the Tour and Travel department of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, who helps to design trips for the student travel market.
“We are a city steeped in musical heritage, so young people travel to New Orleans and find a variety of opportunities to perform to justify the trip,” said Holland. “But we have so much more to offer. We can help to arrange a multi-dimensional travel experience for a group that incorporates a variety of options, from the once-in-a-lifetime experience of marching in a carnival parade to taking a swamp tour to see first-hand the importance of the Louisiana ecosystem to the region’s importance in terms of wildlife and the nation’s coastal environment.
One of the best parts of travel is gaining a “sense of place” for a city or region and learning about the people who influenced its development. New Orleans, poised to celebrate its 300th birthday in 2018, is certainly one of the nation’s most unique and historic destinations.
It is a destination filled with heritage and tradition unlike any other city. Students can see the elements that combine to produce the greatest free show on earth — Mardi Gras — including a behind the scenes tour of Mardi Gras World, where brightly colored floats and masks are on display.
The ever-expanding National World War II Museum, located in New Orleans because this is the city where the invaluable Higgins Boats were designed and built, anchors the Warehouse District, home to other art museums, galleries and near the riverfront. A memorable ride aboard a historic streetcar can transport a group along St. Charles Avenue to Audubon Park and Audubon Zoo. And speaking of the Audubon Zoo, it is just one of the many first-class properties in the Audubon Nature Institute family, including the Aquarium of the Americas and the Insectarium. These world-renowned attractions are in close proximity to each other, and just on the edge of the French Quarter, perhaps one of the most famous historic and colorful neighborhoods in the nation.
“Another great factor for a student group is just how walkable our city is,” added the CVB’s Holland. “This can certainly go a long way in making a trip to New Orleans not just a memorable, learning experience, but an affordable one — a factor that cannot be overlooked.”
For those groups seeking the ultimate musical experience, the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) can assist in arranging many musical and educational opportunities, including playing alongside award-winning jazz musicians at Preservation Hall, learning the history of Cajun and Zydeco, and the unique musical stylings of Brass Bands and the African drumming of the Mardi Gras Indians.
“Our students not only played at a neighborhood street festival, but we had the fantastic opportunity to play with the young kids from the Roots of Music, a student musical group located in the Lower Ninth Ward, led by Derrick Tabb, who was a force, an inspiration,” said Hammond, the Denver Band Director. “To see these young kids who lost everything in the hurricane years earlier finding their place in the world through music was an unforgettable experience for my students.
“Not only did we gain inspiration from the kids, but we ate some of the best food I have ever tasted, prepared by the parents and guardians of the kids from Roots,” added Hammond. “Jambalaya, gumbo, true New Orleans cuisine ... our students still talk about that food.”
Another and perhaps the most rewarding part of Holland’s itinerary was a day spent with the Beacon of Hope and Hike for KaTREEna, two non-profit recovery based groups that engage volunteers in assisting in the city’s continuing renaissance, projects which can still make a difference seven years later. Hammond’s students spend one of their days planting trees in “Gentilly,” a middle-class neighborhood important to the city’s history and livelihood.
“I wanted the students to learn about the hurricane, which we heard so much about years earlier from the television coverage, and to see how such an event can affect a community and our nation’s history,” said Denver’s Holland. “We keep seeing these disasters, and I wanted our students to see that they could somehow make a difference.”
As for incorporating a service project, Connie Uddo, Executive Director of Hike for KaTREEna, sees what she can offer to school groups as an advantage.
“We are one of the few organizations that does not have an age limit, so we can offer that type of experience to kids that have purpose and meaning, and can be tailor made for the age and time frame the group has to offer,” said Uddo. “And I can promise that when the work is done and the kids look over their shoulder at what they have accomplished, they can leave knowing they made a difference. That is the ultimate goal in creating this kind of experience.”
Dave Hammond agrees. “The students learned how to plant a tree, but they truly learned so much more,” said Hammond. “At almost every house we visited, the people would talk to our kids about their experiences and how their lives have been restored. To a student, everyone came away with a story of not just how planting a tree was important, but they felt like they were truly helping to improve someone’s life, and they brought those stories and the story of New Orleans back to Denver to share with others. You can’t put a price on that kind of lesson.”
“There is no shortage of things to do or lessons to be learned,” said Holland, of the New Orleans CVB. “We find with each group that no matter the itinerary, the experiences are unforgettable, and keep kids coming back.”