Held Hostage By The School Calendar? Year-Round Schools Allow Parents To Travel Offseason

hostage tied upIf only kids were in school year-round, the rest of us could actually get a good deal on flights, hotels and cruises in the summertime. As the father of two boys, ages 3 and 5, I still have the freedom to travel outside the traditional summer vacation season, but that freedom will soon evaporate when my older son starts school and I’m not looking forward to it.

We try to travel in the shoulder seasons, but there are times when we have to travel in July and August and I’m always resentful of how everything is more expensive and crowded. A few weeks ago, we visited relatives in Dekalb, Illinois, a town about as far off the tourist trail as one can get. It was a spur of the moment trip and we were shocked when the two best hotels in town were both sold out. We ended up staying in an overpriced, glorified motel for double the price it would be at any other time of year.I was willing to chalk that experience up to a fluke – even though there were no events in Dekalb, at least that we could ascertain, but over the last few weeks, I’ve encountered nothing but high airfares online, sold out hotels and crowds pretty much everywhere we’ve been. Welcome to high-season travel, where everything costs more.

Since I’m accustomed to offseason and shoulder-season travel, I’ve had to recalibrate what’s a good value in my mind, but I still have a hard time swallowing the inflated prices. Our experiences traveling on the East Coast and the Midwest over the last few weeks have me dreading the arrival of the 2013 school year, when my 5-year-old will start kindergarten.

As compulsive travelers who can’t sleep well if we don’t have a big trip somewhere on the horizon, I fear that we’ll have just two unappealing travel options once our kids are in school: prepare to pay a lot more to travel during school vacations or pull our kids out of school to travel.

This parental budget traveler dilemma had me thinking: wouldn’t year-round schools be a boon for travelers? Year-round schools give students the same amount of time off as traditional ones, but the breaks are typically spread out in shorter, more frequent increments across the year. If my kids had, say, three weeks off in May, rather than July, for example, I could afford to take them to the Greek isles or Italy, where we’d enjoy lower prices, smaller crowds and more comfortable weather.

Also, there are some destinations, especially ones in the Southern Hemisphere that are too far to visit on a brief holiday over Christmas, that have less than ideal weather during our summer. For example, I wouldn’t want to visit Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, or Southeast Asia in July or August.

Obviously school administrators don’t set up to the school year for wandering parents like us, but some educators believe that the year-round schedule helps kids retain their lessons better than the traditional school year with a long summer break.

According to a recent Huffington Post story, about 14% of U.S. public schools used the year-round calendar in 2008. Research on the effectiveness of the year-round calendar is mixed but has anyone surveyed the parents and asked them how the year-round calendar has impacted their travels? If more American schools were on the year-round calendar, the entire travel industry would have to adapt, but in general, it would spread the business and crowds out more evenly through the entire year. The tricky part would be for families with kids in different schools that have different breaks.

Despite the potential downsides, I’m hooked on the idea of year-round schools for my kids but finding one can be tricky, depending on where you live. Based on my research, it appears as though most year-round schools are in warm weather states – California, Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida and a few other places. If you’re looking for a year-round school for your kids, the National Association for Year-Round Education maintains a list of them, but before you yank your kids out of their school and plan an off-season trip during the school year, double check it, because it may be outdated.

What do you think about the year-round calendar? Does it give parents more flexibility to travel? Is it better or worse for kids?

(Photo by SinDesign on Flickr)

Visiting Nakatindi – The challenges of a village in Zambia

Nakatindi kids hamming it up for the camera
Nakatindi is a small village in Zambia which was founded by a white landowner. He wanted locals to raise cattle on his property, and so the village was created for them. Unfortunately, over time, the land became unsuitable for the cattle, who eventually had to be sent to graze on the other side of the Zambezi River. Now, this village is struggling to make ends meet — a sociological recipe all too common in Africa.

I visited this village on my Abercrombie & Kent tour of Zambia, as A&K is currently providing funding for the local community school. Also present in the village are volunteers from African Impact and Princeton in Africa fellow Mary Reid Munford, who is working as a project manager for the volunteers. The volunteers stay nearby in Livingstone.

Abercrombie & Kent used to support another local village, but unfortunately, their donations kept mysteriously disappearing, pocketed by some party along the way. Even donations of food would fail to reach the villagers. After too many second chances, the unfortunate situation led to their selecting another village to support. This is just one of the reasons the cycle of poverty here is so difficult to break.

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In Nakatindi, there is no virtually work available. Every so often, someone will come by and ask for workers — but there are far too many men who would love the job. The result of this is that they knock their price down and down to beat out their neighbors. They end up working for as little as a dollar for a full day, and due to this, the standard of living stays painfully low.Nakatindi School
Education is of course one of the few antidotes to poverty, and the local community school for grades 1-7 (above) is doing their best to give Nakatindi’s kids a fighting chance. The children are learning English and volunteers from African Impact conduct physical education classes, giving them extra exposure to a language that could change their lives. It’s actually somewhat difficult to get children to come to school in a village like this, so the school has constructed a kitchen (see gallery). The addition of a kitchen means that kids who show up get a meal. That gets the job done as far as promoting education.

However, after 7th grade, the children need to get to the local high school, which is a good walk away. With the help of A&K’s donations, the school is saving for a bus. They are also planning to purchase a maize grinder. They would save money by grinding the maize for the children’s meals on site, and could even earn money by selling ground maize. They could pay someone to do the grinding with that money, as well, so the donation creates a job — it’s sustainable donations like these that can truly improve this village’s standard of living.

Nakatindi town center

Though they are not working directly with Abercrombie & Kent, Mary Reid Munford says African Impact’s goals are similar in terms of sustainable help. “We are pretty strict with our volunteers not just handing things out as it creates a sense of dependency. Our whole philosophy is about empowerment and sustainability.” African Impact is currently building a health and education center in Nakatindi (below), with the help of volunteers both from abroad and from within the community. The community Club, which is somewhat like a city council, will be able to use the building as an office, and there will be a large space they can rent out for events like weddings and other parties.

Nakatindi health and education center, under construction

Our tour of the town was pretty short, and though our guide spoke English, he was a little hard to understand sometimes. The tour was notably uncomfortable. My companions remarked on the unease we all felt, trekking through their village in our nice outfits and shoes, and with our fancy cameras. Though most of the villagers understand that tourists coming through is part of what generates money for the community, some were a little less than welcoming. From what I could pick up from body language, one woman shouted at our guide and said something to the effect of “if they want to take pictures of my house, they have to pay me.” I kept my camera pretty quiet after that.

It would have been stranger to be welcomed with open arms.

And yet, “welcomed with open arms” is exactly how we felt whenever we encountered kids in the town. They mobbed us, wanting us to take pictures of them and then show them their digital image. They wanted to play with my companion’s blonde hair, and for some reason, they all wanted to take turns holding my hand. I was a little concerned about one thing: although I understand these kids are learning English, I didn’t hear one word from them. In other parts of Zambia, when we encountered kids, they all wanted to say “HELLO HOW ARE YOU” and other phrases they knew to us. Furthermore, I heard one of the African Impact volunteers say that she was pretty sure the kids were just repeating her English phrases back to her in physical education class, and not necessarily picking up the meanings. I hope the quality of their teachers — not just in English, but in all their classes — isn’t lacking, or if it is, that it can be improved.

One thing is pretty clear: the kids are a lot of fun. They’re energetic and funny and love the camera. Check out this video of them hamming it up for me by the well:

So, would I recommend a visit to a local village when on safari in Africa? Definitely. The visit was more than a reality check (after staying in luxury camps with nothing to do but take pictures of zebras and eat), it was emotional and felt respectful. Maybe some of them didn’t want us there, but wouldn’t it be worse if tourists came through the country all the time and never even so much as poked their head into a real village to see how the people live? It’s an uncomfortable question, but for me, the answer is that making an effort to learn about people, if the intentions are good, is always okay.

My trip to Zambia was sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent and Sanctuary Retreats, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.

Photo of the Day (7.27.10)

Holy mackerel! Er, more like holy scad! This thrilling moment under the sea was captured by Flickr user Ka wai punahele off the coast of Bonaire, an island in the southern chain of the Netherlands Antilles.

The photographer writes; “It’s an amazing experience to have a big shoal of fish come straight towards you and then suddenly change direction and swim around you – quite surreal.” Bonaire is world renowned for its excellent scuba diving and is consistently rated among the best diving locations in the world. Even Bonaire’s license plates carry the logo Diver’s Paradise!


If you have an incredible travel moment to share, upload it to Flickr and include it in our Gadling Flickr Pool; it could be our next Photo of the Day!

Expedition school preps potential explorers

Are you an adventurous traveler who has ambitions of exploring the world, but you just aren’t sure how to put the unique expedition of your dreams together? If so, then perhaps Mark Kalch’s Expedition School is for you. This 3-day event is designed to give budding explorers all the skills they’ll need to embark on their own solo expedition, no matter what that adventure might be.

The Expedition School will take place August 20th-22nd in the Pyrenees of the south of France, near Bordeaux. The area is the perfect base of operations for the program due to the close proximity of mountains, forests, and rivers that will serve as the weekend’s adventure playground, where attendees will learn whitewater rafting, mountain trekking, and other outdoor skills.

Students at the Expedition School will also learn how to select the proper equipment for their journey, write sponsorship proposal letters, and more. There will be classes on how to document their adventure through the use of photography and video, as well as how to approach the logistics of planning and preparing for an extended expedition into remote places. Attendees will have the opportunity to share ideas and discuss their plans, while working in a team environment designed to simulate the dynamics of an expedition, including packing the van, sorting through the gear, and so on.

Explorer Mark Kalch has plenty of lessons to pass on to his students, most of which he learned on expeditions of his own. Back in 2007 and 2008, Kalch spent several months traveling the length of the Amazon River, from source to sea, across Peru and Brazil, and he recently completed a solo trek north to south across all of Iran.

Kalch is happy to impart his wisdom on potential explorers who attend his Expedition School for just £295 (about $440) for those who don’t mind camping, while the price jumps to £365 ($550) for a shared room. Seems like a small price to pay for the opportunity to network with other adventurers and learn some important skills that could make your expedition a reality.

[Photo credit: Mark Kalch]

Galley Gossip: Lawyer wants to become a flight attendant


Dear Heather,

I am an attorney, but I stopped working to go back to school for a tax-law post graduate degree and learned so much in school about flight attendants – weird right? Well it’s not really that weird because my professor used to work as a tax lawyer for an airline, so income tax and flight attendant benefits were a big topic! It really got me thinking… wait a minute… this could be an AWESOME way to see the world and have fun being in customer service. I’m a pretty personable person and love meeting people and helping them out. Does it take a certain type of person to be a flight attendant? I just really want to have some fun and adventure. I know there is a lot more to the job than that, but is there ENOUGH fun and adventure to make the not -so -glamorous parts of the job worth it?

Claire

Dear Claire,

Believe it or not, you’re not the only attorney interested in becoming a flight attendant. One of my colleagues who works part time for the airline owns his own law firm in Boston. There’s a reason he still flies when he really doesn’t have to. That’s because the job is still filled with enough fun and adventure to make the not-so-glamorous parts of the job worth it! But it’s up to each flight attendant to make the most of the job, to focus on the positive and take advantage of the flexibility and flying benefits. You’d be surprised to learn how many flight attendants don’t do that. Otherwise it becomes just like any other job. And remember no one ever becomes a flight attendant for the money, but you probably already learned that in tax-law class.
Most of the letters I receive from those interested in becoming a flight attendant are from people who are trying to decide between attending college or a flight attendant training school. I always advise them to go to college first and to avoid the training schools altogether. No need to waste money when airlines train you once you’re hired.

These days the airline industry is not stable. Most airlines are either cutting back or going under, which is why it’s so important to have an education or something to fall back on in case the job doesn’t work out. It’s only because you, Claire, already have an education, as well as a rather impressive career, that I say go for it! Why not? If it’s not the job you’ve always dreamt about you can always quit and go back to being a lawyer. Or better yet, do both!

The biggest problem you may have is actually finding an airline that is hiring. Check out flightattendantcareer.com for a list of airlines now accepting applications. Corporate flying is another alternative. I’ll write more about that in an upcoming Galley Gossip post. Until then, good luck!

And keep me posted!

Heather Poole

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Have a flight attendant question? Send an email to Skydoll123@yahoo.com

Photos courtesy of Dmytrok and Morberg