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“We’re all pretty good friends from the start,” Addy Oliver said. PHOTO COURTESY OF KELLEY KNACK

Waves + theme parks + dolphins = another successful WorldStrides trip

45 kids on the books for 2021

What do you get when you mix 39 junior high students, 14 chaperones, a few airplanes, multiple theme parks and eight days in Florida in October? If you were thinking madness or chaos that may be, but the correct answer is a WorldStrides trip.

WorldStrides provides a science-based field trip to Orlando, Fla. for Ennis 7th and 8th graders. Junior high students have been attending for 25 plus years. Their 2019 trip began on Oct. 16. 

Through the eight-day immersion, students learned how physics is involved in rollercoaster design at Magic Kingdom, how physics played into ride experience at Universal Studios and experienced a space shuttle launch at the Kennedy Space Center.

“I liked learning about how the (Animal Kingdom) animations moved,” Addy Oliver, 8th grader, said.

The teacher who originally started this opportunity understood that high school students had more travel opportunities and junior high students would benefit from an experience all their own. It used to be booked through a travel company, but this got to be expensive. Ms. Kelley Knack, teacher and WorldStrides coordinator and organizer, with a travel agent background, decided to put her skills to the test. 

“I started just doing it all on my own,” she said. 

While she was able to pair the price down, the trip still costs $2,200 per student. This is a lump sum Ms. Knack compiled, including everything from airfare to meals. Due to the expense, the school goes every two years to give students time to fundraise.

Fundraising activities included the spring car raffle and selling butter braids and Elliott’s cookie dough. Before the WorldStrides trip even begins, students are introduced to skills like goal setting, time management, money management, budgeting and setting a deadline.

“It was a really good experience to learn how to go around and ask people questions,” Megan Knack, 8th grader, said.

“It’s travel etiquette, it’s restaurant etiquette, it’s time management,” Ms. Knack said. These skills round out the experience. Students learn life skills that carry them into high school and beyond. They are introduced to job options they may have never considered before. The contrast Knack kept emphasizing, though, was how the trip was equal parts education and fun.

Students experienced a dolphin swim this year, a first for the Ennis crew. In small groups, they spent 45 minutes with their own dolphin, giving it kisses and riding next to its fin. “My favorite part was Discovery Cove. You got to snorkel with all these animals. You could even touch the sting rays in habitat,” Knack said.

Traveling back from Kennedy Space Center, the group stopped at Cocoa Beach. For some, this was their first time at the ocean. “We were two hours in the waves, and they laughed nonstop,” Ms. Knack said. “The best part was getting trapped under the waves,” Caden Lovett, 7th grader, said.

Tropical storm Nester made an appearance and Ms. Knack said it was the most rain she experienced going on this trip. The kids were hardly bothered, though. Lines were short at Hollywood Studios, their destination during the storm, and they grabbed ponchos and took advantage of their good fortune.

Lovett noticed the elevation difference and how much easier it was to run around the theme parks, which was a bonus. The humidity, on the other hand, was shocking. “I wanted AC bad,” Kaleb Rice, 8th grader, said.

Perhaps the most lasting effect of the trip was the opportunity to branch out and connect with different classmates. Especially at this age, students can get trapped into a personality box at school. While undesirable, sometimes it just happens. Ms. Knack put in every effort to break this down while away from home. 

 “I think these kids learn to see other kids in a different light,” Ms. Knack said. She felt it boosted their confidence to know they did not exist under one stereotype. 

“Most groups, every time they come back from Florida, usually talk about how they made new friends. They talked to people they never really talked to before. That happened to me,” Knack said.

The last life lesson learned was showing gratitude to the ones who supported them. “We have tried to work on our kids being appreciative,” Ms. Knack said. Thank you notes were written to people who supported the trip in any way once the group returned. Ms. Knack knows how supportive the Ennis community is but feels it cannot be overstated. “They definitely supported it,” Rice said.

“It never hurts to say thanks,” Ms. Knack said.

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