Like any good teacher, Travis James knows a subject has more impact when a person can see, hear and even smell something in real life.
“I’m always amazed by the stuff they’ll come home with – the stories,” said James, recalling a memory of the smell of the steam rising from the New York City subway system.
“I’m never going to forget that,” he said.
Travis James is a teacher at Fort St. James Secondary School and also the organizer of the High School Community Travel Club.
As the organizer for the club, James has coordinated and booked seven trips for high school students and community members for places around the world, with next year’s trip to Beijing being the seventh.
From Costa Rica to Rome, New York to Ireland, James has taken students to places far outside the daily life of Fort St. James.
“I still have my metro card,” said Pita Rokoratu, a student who went to New York City with the club in the spring of 2010. “It really opens your eyes to the world around you.”
Rokoratu said at first he was a bit overwhelmed with how busy the city was, but he became much more comfortable in the hustle and bustle as the trip progressed.
“I remember we watched Wicked in London,” said Kristina Joseph, who went to England and Ireland this past spring. Joseph also recalls learning about the Potato Famine in Ireland from an Irishman, getting a more direct perspective on history.
Josh den Engelsen, who went to Greece and Italy in 2011 recalls seeing the Acropolis and the city of Athens and legendary mountains like Mt. Etna and Vesuvius.
“All the history that I’ve ever known here only goes back hundreds of years, but over there it goes back thousands,” he said.
His leadership and volunteerism earned him some special recognition this year, when he was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in Toronto.
In total 60,000 Canadians will be awarded the medal to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. James was one of 30 teachers nominated by EF Educational Tours, which was a partner in the nomination process, and is the company James organizes his tours through each year.
On Oct. 13, James was awarded the medal at a ceremony in Toronto, with a big part of the thrill of receiving the award being the opportunity to get up close and personal with Marc Kielburger, co-founder of Free the Children and Me to We, according to James. Kielburger was a speaker at the event and handed out the medals.
“I felt honoured,” he said.
“Travis is being awarded this Medal because he is extremely committed to excellence in education with a focus on experiential learning,” said Stephanie Ruttan, spokesperson for EF Educational Tours in a letter about James. “He goes above and beyond in his daily life to support the EF mission of breaking down barriers of language, culture and geography, and to encourage his community to be global citizens.”
But like most volunteers, James was quick to share the credit for what the travel club does.
“It’s just awesome for the community and district that we have students that are doing this … and that we have a very supportive school.”
He said the area school board and his school’s administration have been very supportive of the travel club over the years. The club itself was started by Mary Huffman, and he picked up where she left off and continued to grow it.
The trips he has gone on so far have all been to places James has been before, because this gives him a level of confidence about taking the students there.
“It’s very much not a vacation,” said James. He said he doesn’t relax and enjoy the experience himself until the plane lands back in Prince George at the end of the trip.
“A weight is lifted off my shoulders,” said James.
But it’s all worth it in the end. “It just goes back to the students,” he said. “I figure it’s something they’re going to remember from their high school years.”