Most field trips have standard destinations to museums, historical sites, or other orthodox educational tours. As a teacher, I have organized some unusual field trips including one to meet the 1996 Miss Universe contestants in Las Vegas. I was teaching history and English at the time at a rural town one hour outside of Las Vegas. I also taught one elective foreign affairs course at the time.
Rural students often have a rather narrow view of the world, and it was my objective to open it up to them. Unusual field trips can do just that to a degree just teaching about it in a classroom can never achieve. At the time, I was also in an unusual position to be able to make it happen.
The background to being able to organize my high school foreign affairs students to meet the international Miss Universe contestants came about through one of my colleagues who grew up in Florida as a friend with the head of chaperones for the pageant. The chaperones are mostly from Florida and are in charge of making sure the young ladies know where to go and keep guys away from them. Each chaperone is assigned four girls to handle.
As this particular pageant was in Las Vegas, my teaching colleague, Barbara, asked her girlfriend if she needed any help. Her girlfriend joked that yes, can you find me someone who can speak Russian? Barbara thought of my Estonian wife who knows a number of languages including Russian. My wife accepted and spent the next three weeks assigned to Miss Russia, Miss Poland, Miss Estonia, and Miss Ukraine.
My wife had to spend all of the three weeks away from home as the contestants trained for the choreography for the pageant. I stayed home teaching and taking care of our 2-year-old daughter. I would visit Las Vegas on the weekends taking our daughter with me to see her mother. The Miss Universe contestants loved seeing our daughter who became the unofficial Miss Universe baby. We have many pictures of our daughter, who is now 26 years old, with the Miss Universe contestants.
The head of the chaperones agreed to my idea of having my foreign affairs class visit, and my principal approved the field trip. To prepare the students, remember most were high school boys, I read them the riot act on how to behave and be gentlemen. I promised them the first time an inappropriate comment is made, we will end the trip and march to the buses. I am proud to say they complied and did indeed behave well, which was more than unusual for them. Unusual field trips can have pleasant, unexpected outcomes.
We boarded the buses at the school, and the students were excited at not just getting out of their regular classes that day, but thrilled to meeting the young ladies at the Aladdin Hotel where the contestants were staying and rehearsing. Not a single student was absent that day, which was unusual too for a school plagued with absenteeism.
Rural students often have a rather narrow view of the world, and it was my objective to open it up to them. Unusual field trips can do just that to a degree just teaching about it in a classroom can never achieve.
There is one set of train tracks we have to cross just outside of Las Vegas to get there. Nevada state law requires school buses to always come to a full stop before crossing train tracks. You can see in all directions for miles at that particular location in the flat desert that there is no train, but full stop we did. We shortly afterwards disembarked at the Aladdin Hotel, and I showed them the appropriate entrance.
The head chaperone scheduled a break for the contestants at this time so they could meet and talk to my students. Foreign countries were no longer just different colored places on a flat map, rather stunning and friendly women representing their nations. The women in turn enjoyed it too as they are rather isolated at the hotel for three weeks with just occasional field trips of their own to see some of Las Vegas and Hoover Dam. They always had to stay with their assigned chaperones and could not wander in any way on their own.
For the contestants, this was the first time to meet just regular Americans outside of their controlled pageant bubble. The students were assigned to interview two contestants about their country and write a report for me. I remember being impressed by Miss Poland who had majored in history. Being a fellow historian, we had several good conversations.
We stayed an hour and departed. I never saw so many excited students. It seems they enjoyed foreign affairs more than they imagined. Another first was later; all of the students actually completed this assignment to write about two contestants. That too was a first for this particular student population. Unusual field trips can produce unusual results. It successfully cut through their normal apathetic and “this is boring” attitude.
I had a VIP seat at the televised Miss Universe Pageant rooting for the contestants my wife chaperoned. Sadly, only Miss Russia made it to the final competition of ten countries. Alicia Machado from Venezuela won with Aruba and Finland as 1st and 2nd runner ups respectively. Miss Russia, Ilmira Shamsutdinova, did win best costume. She was given a check of several thousand dollars, but had no idea how to cash it. It would be difficult if not impossible to cash it in Russia in 1996.
Ilmira sat next to me during the bus trip for the contestants and VIPs to the after-event party. She asked me in great concern how to cash it. I explained she could cash it at the bank of issue and my wife could arrange to take her there before she had to return to Russia. She relaxed and went back to being happy. When we arrived, none other than the owner of the Miss Universe Pageant Donald Trump greeted us at the entrance. The food and music was good. Best of all, my wife was done with her chaperone duties in a few days and could come back home. Teaching full-time and taking care of a two-year-old alone is no picnic.
After the televised event, my next foreign affairs class was dominated by student questions about being there for it all. The students were thrilled to see on TV the contestants they had met. I shared with them that I was disappointed at how quickly it was cut to just ten early on to fit the TV time slot. That’s show business as it is a show, but wished the women who did not make the first cut had more time on air.
Field trips can have short-term results, but long-term as well. I have no doubt to this day 25 years later, my students still remember our unique excursion and experience that day in May of 1996.
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