National Convention attendance without candy bars, raffles, carwashes

Roberts copyBy Denise Roberts, Greenwood Community High School

We were once a school of haves and have nots. With rising free and reduced lunch numbers as well as aging homes in a land-locked corporation, those haves are disappearing. Our kids do not have extra money, especially the type of money normally needed to travel to national conventions.
Yet, Greenwood HS journalism students have attended 19 of the last 21 national conventions.
I wish I could take credit for this travel consistency, but the person I have to thank is Nancy Hastings, our retired northwestern Indiana adviser extraordinaire. Years ago when writing a column for the IHSPA newsletter, I interviewed various advisers with strong publications programs to pinpoint what marked their turning points. Nancy described a design and topic idea book summer assignment that each of her student journalists completed; she claimed that her publications blossomed the year she began this requirement.
I tweaked Nancy’s idea to include an advertisement requirement as outlined on broadcast, newspaper and yearbook staff applications. Each of my 60 staff members must sell two advertisements during the summer. On the first day of school, they turn in their advertising contracts so we begin the year in the black. Students who intend to apply for the national journalism trip must sell and collect the money for three advertisements instead.
That brings me to the application process. When I first started teaching, I prepared a TripTik that outlined all the expenses for the national convention. Students who could afford the trip paid in installments, and I took large groups of students with additional chaperones. Of course, I discovered what so many of us discover. Students who could afford the trip were not always those who deserved to go on the trip, and students who could not afford the trip were far too often students who deserved to go. Large groups of student resulted in kids breaking off into their normal cliques and little group bonding. I also found that parent chaperones often resulted in their children feeling torn between their peers and their parents which, of course, hurt the group bonding experience, too.
So, I decided to change my approach when I started at GHS.
Students who meet that summer advertising requirement and have missed no deadlines by the application deadline are invited to apply to attend the national convention. The national convention site has been well-publicized and even featured on a huge LGI bulletin board as early as one year prior. Students write essays explaining why they want to go, why they deserve to go, what they intend to research and what they intend to do with the information they gather. Students must attach a check for $150 so they have a financial investment in the convention, signed parent forms authorizing the application and confirming no conflicts with the convention dates,  copies of driver’s licenses or student IDs if non-drivers and copies of insurance cards.
I work with a few fellow faculty members to select 8 – 12 students for the trip. Students know seniors nor editors are guaranteed spots. Selection is based on their essays, trustworthiness and perceived dedication to the program. In fact, several students have attended multiple conventions over the years. These conventions provide a driving force in encouraging students to push themselves to succeed.
In addition to the $150 initial investment, students are responsible for their food, incidentals and ground transportation. We include a Friday night higher-end dinner in the plan, but I provide menu information so students can plan ahead. One key component to our national convention travels involves binders. I am a binder junkie and have a binder for each convention. That binder provides every bit of information I need to plan, from airfare to ground transportation to site notes to local activities. I make notes regarding the entire experience so I can tweak if the convention is held in the same place in the future. I have used the same binders for multiple Dallas, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. sites. This detail helps me plan convention attendance that is as inexpensive as I can go while maintaining quality.
Research is the key. Let me explain our Orlando experience. Discovering the convention would be held at the Dolphin last March, I began researching. I found that staying at a true Disney resort would give our group free ground transportation from the airport to the hotel. I also found that a Disney Value Resort would be far less expensive than the convention hotel and that we could enroll in the Disney Quick Service meal plan. Those Indiana advisers who attended this convention surely faced sticker shock at meal-time. That research put me on-line at a time a major Disney deal launched. If booking rooms during a certain time period – which coincided with our national convention dates – guests could get free park hopper passes and free meal plans. My students stayed on Disney property although they were in rooms far less extravagant than the Dolphin, had free transportation from the airport to the hotel, spent every non-convention hour available enjoying Disney World and did not have to freak out about how much they spent for meals or snacks.
Normally, we stay in the convention hotels to eliminate additional transportation expenses. Disney was an exception. That same research has come in handy at so many conventions. For example, I know not to pay the extra expense to go to the San Diego Zoo or kayaking in La Jolla based on previous experiences. Kids were far more thrilled with spending Thursday afternoon on Coronado with the shops, the resort and the beach. As far as Dallas, I have notes to pinpoint which company to contact for a real dude ranch experience and which restaurants work best in Ft. Worth after the rodeo. Many advisers might not focus so much on the extra activities in convention cities. Far too often, I have students who have never flown and who might be traveling to the destination city as once-in-a-lifetime experiences. For that reason, we always arrive on Wednesday night and spend Thursday prior to the keynote doing something connected with the city.
We also have a plan for our departure that saves money. Although I would love to stay for the Sunday awards ceremonies, paying the extra night does not fit our budget. Instead, I book red eye flights on Saturday night. Several years ago, I tried this in Seattle to discover that being stuck in the lobby with our luggage was not the way to end a convention experience on a high note. The next year, I began booking my personal room for the extra night. On Saturday mornings prior to the first sessions, my students move all their stuff into my room, and we use my room as a home base throughout the day. It works and saves us upwards of $700 each year.
Between the initial advertising campaign with far more people selling than are going on the trip and subsequent traditional advertising sales campaigns per publication during the year, we are able to cover the expense of the trip. And, no, very little advertising revenue comes from the local mall. Most advertising sales include small businesses available in most Indiana communities, such as Avon representatives, realty companies, dentists, etc. We do not have to sell candy bars, hold car washes, raffle off 50/50 tickets during basketball games, etc. Starting the year with 100 – 180 ads sold at $30 – $360 each makes all the difference. We can focus on journalism.


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