Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Recap: Honor Choir Field Trip

Again, pretend it's April.

Elena practiced two mornings a week before school with the Honor Choir. She loved it. I can't say enough about the director, Craig--he is such a wonderful teacher for these young men and women. Anyway, near the end of the school year, the group travels for Chorus competition. This was new for our family; I figured, with any new exposure for a field trip, I'd go as chaperone. Craig and I had met privately about what this field trip would entail, so I could try to plan ahead. It was a four day trip, to Myrtle Beach (by tour bus). Competition, outings, pool, beach, fun museums, shows. I started getting nervous, b/c all those things entail a different set of parameters in terms of E's movement and the amount of supervision she needs. Originally, there were 12 chaperones for 120 kids. I told Craig that in the past, I had 2 other students while chaperoning E in a museum and I couldn't pay attention to the other 2--let alone 9--so I could only really be counted on as a chaperone for Elena, and I'd help when I could. He agreed.

Equipment we brought: wheelchair, leg braces and crutches (obviously), footstool for the bus ride, magnetic pocket (so she could carry her ID), Chorus barre (PVC pipe "barre" handle for when standing on bleachers),  water shoes for beach/pool, beach crutches.

I'm not sure where to begin here...this trip was great in so many ways, but really exhausting. My biggest concerns were the hotel stay; I wanted Elena to stay in a hotel room with her peers, and have fun--but she can't use the hotel room shower. (Don't bother asking about a handicapped room--the hotel managed to fit us in as best they could during spring break week, and I wanted E to be in a room with other students instead of in a handicap room with me). Elena can shower herself without issue when she has a stool to sit on, and a detachable showerhead (which was not available). She and I talked about a plan, and I brought it to Craig--I'd try to quickly wash her in either her room or my room before the students got off the bus (we'd get off early; there's always a chaperone meeting before students leave the bus. This would give us ~10 minutes to quickly get this done--not a lot of time, but enough to make it not super awkward).

The trip was a serious whirlwind of activity--preventing idle time for a large group of teenagers is the only way to keep drama to a minimum, so we were on the go (or getting to/from something) constantly. Typically the structure of the day was breakfast at hotel, outing, lunch at outing, hotel, possible outing, dinner outing, back to hotel. The outings varied by day; if they were at the hotel, it was typically a walk on the beach, or beach or pool time. If they were out, it was Chorus competition, a dinner show (Pirate's Voyage), a singing engagement before a show (Alabama Theater), or a museum/adventure place (Battleship North Carolina, WonderWorks, Aquarium).

Meals were also a challenge. Breakfast was with our chaperone group at the hotel in shifts (my chaperone partner was largely responsible for the rest of our group, bless her). Lunch was typically catered box-lunch style, and we sit where we could. Dinners out for our party of 133 requires a buffet, and that means that it's too hard for Elena to navigate and carry anything; I would ferry food back and forth to her while she sat and ate with other students.

The students were fabulous at their competition! They sounded lovely and had great stage presence. I went backstage with E's "chorus barre", and brought it to the bleachers before/after the show. I thought it was more stable than E's crutches when she had to stand for a long time; if she moves the crutch tip a bit, I'm always afraid she'll place it off the bleacher edge and fall. So she used one crutch and the barre. I think it worked well, but it's a bit awkward to set up and take down b/c it requires another person. E can walk with one crutch pretty well, but if she has to do stairs (if they don't have a banister) she needs a hand. I love watching and listening to Elena sing--one thing she does is stand super tall and straight to project her voice (they all do, but this is more difficult for her) and I'm just so proud of her!


Zoom in pre-performance to show the Chorus Barre (E is very tiny...)


As for the beach or pool, well, those are tough places for E to be--especially the beach. It was a far walk on the sand to our spot (had to find a place where we could watch all the kids) and the water was COLD and the waves were rough. Elena just enjoyed the sun while the majority of her classmates braved the freezing ocean (her choice; I told her I would take her out there if she wanted). She enjoyed swimming in the pool and was able to play with peers there. After the pool there was a big rush to get ready, which was an issue b/c everyone left en masse. Elena was cold and wet and in her water shoes, and it was slippery and very crowded so I had to carry her to ensure her safety, something both of us didn't want.

The group sang for the Alabama Theater (warming up the crowd) and it went well, but it was standing near the edge of the stage with a large group of people, at the end of the day. I was really nervous b/c E looked super crouchy, and partially unstable, especially if she was laughing with classmates. She assured me she was fine. I got looks from two of the gentlemen in our choral ensemble that told me "Lady--don't worry. She's got this. We'll make sure of it." It was kind, sweet, and reassuring...I could have cried.

Wonder Works was crazy. So many fun things to do! E went off with some other students for a while. I would come and go, or stay behind and watch her in case she needed me. The only time she really did was during the indoor ropes course, which she really wanted to do, and was SUPER difficult. We did an out-and-back portion of the course (we veered to the small loop, instead of the larger more crowded one, but it turns out the small loop was more challenging. We never made the loop but we're calling it a success!). I am happy to report that the staff there was not phased by E's disability or that she would need intense close supervision (by me) on the course (climbers are supposed to be going one at a time). 

The other outings I won't mention, because Elena either didn't need much supervision at all (Aquarium) or it was largely sitting and being entertained (Pirate's Voyage, Alabama Theater). The Battleship North Carolina was a lot of steps, but after the long bus ride E needed to get up and move. It was a lot of guarding, but she did as well as possible.

So...lessons from this trip.

1) Always bring the wheelchair. We didn't need it that much, but Elena used it almost every time we brought it out of the bus (I'm guessing...5 times?). 2) I need to start making sure Elena has pockets so she can carry things. Her magnetic pocket is a great idea, but it wiped her room card every time she put it in the pocket. (A backpack is harder for her to manage with crutches...we're working on this). 3) Getting a head start when going anywhere is a must. The only time this was really bad was after the beach/pool day. It was chaos. 4) Elena should work on being able to wash herself quickly in a bathtub (including hair, probably using a cup).

Other lessons...Elena is more like her peers than not. I know this, but honestly this was one of the first times that I could observe her with her classmates out of school. In general, she was included (when fast enough to stay with a group), and as far as I can tell she liked being in a hotel room without a parent. The other students (and chaperones) were kind. There was a good dose of what I call "middle school drama" that was new to me, and it didn't seem to affect Elena very much. Overall it was a great trip, and fantastic to see how capable Elena is and how wonderful and talented these young people are. I am thankful I got to chaperone. It was a great experience.

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