PHOTO OF THE DAY: DEPARTURE DAY
Students, teachers and chaperones are just minutes away from departure for Orlando, Fla., Wednesday morning, June 7 for their seven-day excursion, much of which will be spent at Walt Disney World. Below is the story about the trip that appears in this week’s Courier.
FREEMAN TO FLORIDA: An ultimate field trip
Ever since March of 1985, music students from Freeman Junior-Senior High School have taken semi-regular excursions to Walt Disney World in Orlando for a different kind of education. They are again this week.
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
Sixty-three students in grades 7-12 and 20 adult chaperones — including music teachers Iwona Lewter, Sonja Waltner and Sheila Wipf — boarded two charter buses and left Freeman Wednesday morning, June 7 for the school’s every-four-years music trip to Florida. The group was scheduled to arrive, with their instruments, in Orlando after its 30-hour bus trip Thursday afternoon and return to Freeman the following Tuesday evening.
The days between will be largely spent at Walt Disney World, where choir students will take part in a Disney Performing Arts Soundtrack Session Workshop at Epcot’s Studio B Friday afternoon and band students will participate in a STARS Instrumental Performance Workshop at Universal Studios’ Soundstage 33 Sunday morning. The rest of Sunday will be spent at Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure.
The group will also visit Magic Kingdom on Friday, Cocoa Beach and Hollywood Studios on Saturday and return to Universal Studios on Monday morning/early afternoon before boarding the buses for the return trip to Freeman.
Hotel accommodations while in Florida will be at TownePlace Suites by Marriott-Flamingo Crossings West Entrance to Disney World.
The trip is being funded by participating families with support from a fundraising campaign initiated by the school’s music department that goes back several years. No district money is being used.
Freeman Public’s semi-regular trips to Florida began in 1985 when Alvin and Betty Mudder, the superintendent and band director at the time, took 65 students in grades 7-12 to the Sunshine State to participate in the World Band Festival. That trip occurred during the school year — from March 10 to March 16 — and came at the invitation of Daniel Block, the executive director of the International Honor Musicians Society in Sarasota, Fla. The band was the featured performer at “Mickey’s Street Party Parade” on Main Street U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom; gave a concert at both Sea World and Circus World; and made the most of their trip elsewhere, visiting landmarks like Epcot and Kennedy Space Center. Their final order of business before the long trek home was a stop at New Smyrna Beach to give the students a chance to wade in the Atlantic Ocean.
“If the opportunity presented itself,” Al Mudder told the Courier after returning from Florida, “we took advantage of it.”
Mudder called that trip of 1985 a “once in a lifetime” experience, and it may have been for some of the 65 students who had the opportunity to enjoy it. But band excursions to Florida became routine both in the Mudder’s final nine years with the district and following the arrival of Sheila Wipf, who replaced Betty Mudder as the district’s band teacher in 1994.
“It was just what they did here,” said Wipf, whose job at Freeman Public was her first out of college and remembers there being conversations about whether to continue what the Mudders had started. “It had been a number of years (since the last trip) and parents at that time wanted it to happen for their kids, and so we did what we could to make it happen,” she said. “Now, I think more people do Orlando — do Disney — back then not a lot of people did stuff like that. They wanted their kids to have that experience because it wasn’t something their family would necessarily do.”
If that was the case when Wipf arrived in the mid-1990s, it was most certainly the case a decade earlier, when 65 students and 19 adult chaperones embarked on the 1,600-mile journey with a fair amount of trepidation.
“A trip of this nature was the first for Freeman High School and for most of the students and adults involved,” the Mudders wrote in their reflections on the experience published in the March 27, 1985 Courier. “We were apprehensive about the length of the bus ride, lodging, cost of food and novelties, safety of the students, sunburn, and the reliability of the tour director. A number of meetings with parents, students and chaperones were held where the organization of the trip was discussed, planned and set. An important emphasis was that the students are to be aware and concerned about their fellow band members.”
And in the end, all was well.
“The student behavior was excellent and we are very proud of this as eight days is a long period of time to be under non-parent guidance,” the Mudders wrote. “As director and superintendent, we are pleased that this trip was enjoyed by all and went smoothly.”
Jodi Glanzer was a freshman in March of 1985 and was among those attending that inaugural journey to Florida and what she described as a “unique opportunity.”
“It’s hard to say what I liked best about the trip, since everything was so special and each attraction was so different from the others,” she wrote in her reflections published in the Courier the week after their return. “However, our visit to the ocean and its vast beach, and the thrill of marching and playing in Disney World before thousands of people lining the streets were extra special.”
The positive outcome from that experimental excursion of 1985 no doubt set the stage for the return trips that followed — the Mudders took the band again in 1990 and 1993 — and helped make the Florida trip part of the culture at Freeman Public.
“Now it’s maybe more common,” Wipf says of extended family outings to attractions like Disney World, “but even so, I’ve got a lot of kids who have never been there — who have never seen the ocean. So that’s fun. Give them a new experience.”
As has been the case since the beginning, while there is ample time for leisure, the trip is a working one for students and a unique educational opportunity that is difficult to quantify.
Since accompanying the students on her first trip in 1998 — and then in the subsequent years of 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018 — Wipf has seen those educational opportunities firsthand. The band used to make the trip in March, when the focus of the music department was a band competition and a choir concert, but because of concerns about state testing, the trip was moved to June starting in 2010.
“Either we were getting ready to test or we had started testing,” Wipf said, “and it was just too dangerous to have all those kids go and then come back and test. So (the school said), if you want to go, you’ve got to go in summer.”
That’s when the educational component shifted from concerts and competitions to workshops, where students spent dedicated time working with professionals.
“We could still perform, but it was something that was a little more educational — a little bit different,” Wipf said. “We direct them; they are always looking at us. So if all we are doing is giving a concert it’s the same thing they’re doing here, just in a different place.
“These workshops are something they can’t get around here,” she continues. “These are professional musicians who are very knowledgeable, and will show them what else they can do with their instrument and what else they can do with their singing.”
This year’s trip is the first one following the Covid pandemic of 2020-2021, which temporarily put a halt to normal activity and, consequentially, threw off rhythms and routines going forward. That’s why the music department’s 2023 trip is five years removed from the trip of 2018.
“We were supposed to go last year, but because of all the backup from Covid, we couldn’t go,” she said. “I lost my travel agent; I lost my travel agency. Everything that I had used was gone, so I didn’t have a foot in the door to get me in places.
“I had to start fresh.”
Wipf also says the decision to take bus rather than to fly, which is how the trip was made in both 2006 and 2010, was strictly a financial one.
“Everything is so expensive; he didn’t even quote me flights,” she says of the travel agent she is working with. “We’re about $125 (per student) more than last time, and we flew last time.”
And while the 30-hour bus ride there and back will feel long, driving has its advantages.
“The hard thing about flying is, once we get there, we’re at the mercy of public transportation,” Wipf said. “We don’t have our own bus drivers; we don’t have our own people. I really like that, because they’re just waiting in the parking lot for us. There have been some years where we get done at the parks and we’re waiting for an hour to get picked up.”
All of it will add up to an experience that will long be remembered, which was the ultimate takeaway following that first trip to Florida in 1985.
“My overall impression of my recent trip to Florida was a great one,” wrote Heidi Schrag, a sophomore at the time. “Not only did I have a lot of fun but I also learned a lot from the things we did … If I had a chance to do this again, there’s no way I would pass up the opportunity. All the hard work and effort put into the trip was well worth it.”
“It’s something they can’t do around here,” said Wipf, noting that Betty Mudder once equated being at the parks to being at the State Fair.
“And that actually is true,” she said. “You let ’em go and all they’re doing is running from ride to ride to ride, waiting in line, stop and get a drink and maybe go to the bathroom, and then running from ride to ride.”
That, coupled with choir workshop Friday afternoon and the instrumental workshop on Sunday, will make for a full and exhilarating three full days in Florida.
“Everybody’s excited,” said Wipf. “It’s just fun.”
Courier Publisher Jeremy Waltner is accompanying the group to Florida as both a chaperone and journalist covering the experience. He will be blogging about it throughout the seven-day excursion. A link is set up at freemansd.com.