Each May the Stewart Center facilitates an educational travel experience with participants from our middle school program. In order to secure a spot in the traveling party students must meet certain academic, conduct, attendance and service project requirements. Of the nine members in our middle school group six qualified for this year’s trip to New York City.

General George Patton, referencing a nineteenth century German military officer, once said “No plan has ever survived contact with the enemy.” This statement proved applicable with regards to our New York travel itinerary. Thanks to a ticket snafu, multiple delays, a cancelled flight and a stop in Detroit, the Center’s six students and four chaperons landed at New York’s LaGuardia airport 26 hours after leaving the Stewart Center. Although only one of the middle school students had previous flying experience the youth handled the situation with relative ease and predominately good behavior. Upon arrival in New York it was apparent that the ordeal had not dampened the students’ eagerness for air travel or their expectations for the week’s activities. The students’ positive attitude help bolster a weary group of chaperons.

Metro Baptist Church was our host while we were in New York and provided us with affordable lodging and easy access to the City’s many attractions. Among other things our group toured Ellis Island, spent an afternoon at the American Museum of Natural History, ascended to the top of the Empire State Building, saw a Broadway show and dickered with merchants in Chinatown. Whether riding the subway, taking in a Mets game or playing in Central Park each passing experience increased the students’ confidence as travelers. At the trip’s outset it was difficult to determine which was flying faster, the airplane or the butterflies in the students’ stomachs. But by the second and third day of the trip the middle schoolers, who had never been out of the southeast, moved through the City and later the airport with the ease of experienced travelers.

I am not sure if the students’ confidence rose because of numerous successful experiences, group dynamics or the naiveté that accompanies being twelve. Regardless of the cause, our educational travel not only enriches the mind, it emboldens the spirit. Former Auburn University football coach Pat Dye has been quoted as saying “If you don’t believe you are going to win, you’ve already lost.” The irony of that statement is that many under-resourced children believe they are going to win on the football field but they don’t believe they can be winners in academics or business, or in their family and community lives.
Not everything went smoothly with our travels and not every element of the trip lived up to my educational expectations but the Center is committed to providing our students with the experiences necessary to grow their confidence for success. It is not enough to offer traditional academic support and faith development opportunities; we must help our children realize their value, potential and capabilities. To succeed our students must have the intellectual, emotional and spiritual maturity to pursue their full potential but they must also believe that success is possible and that it is within their reach…for without belief they have already lost.