In her first year as a teacher, Erin Whited has already taken students on the trip of a lifetime.

As band director for Ardmore High School in Alabama, Whited was thrust into the role of leading a trip to the Daytona 500, where her students would perform for up to 100,000 people during a mass band performance on the infield of the famous speedway. They also got to spend a day having fun in Universal Orlando!

With a love of travel and the help of Super Holiday Tours, the trip in February was a great success. We sat down with Whited to catch up on how it went and gain her perspective as a fresh face to teaching.

What has your first year teaching been like?

It has been everything I anticipated and more, to be honest. I never in a million years thought I’d be doing both middle and high school, and I am absolutely doing both and more. We’re doing marching band. I’m doing beginner band. I’m doing intermediate band. I have a pep band that has started like basketball games this year. I have a jazz band. And I just love it here. The community has been so accepting of me.

I’ve had kids who quit last year come up to me and they’re like, “Hey, can I be in the band next year?” And it’s just been super encouraging. I really love it here. It’s been the best first-year teaching experience that I honestly could have ever hoped for.

How did the Daytona trip come together?

Coming into the job, the trip had already been planned, but nothing else had really been done. Casey Cole reached out to me when I took the job, and he was like, “Hey, this is what we’re doing.” There wasn’t many people going at that point, but once I refreshed everyone, “We’re still doing this. It’s coming up soon,” a ton more kids out on board. So out of my 80-member marching band, I had 65 go, which was really cool.

As a first year teacher, I was like, “Oh my gosh, now I have to do a trip.” I kind of freaked out. But Casey eased my mind with everything I came across. He was super quick to respond to any question I had. I was emailing him probably three or four times a week asking him random questions that my parents would ask me that I didn’t know the answer to necessarily. And there were multiple times we had Zoom calls before I had a parent meeting, just so he could help me feel more comfortable relaying information, but I felt super secure going into the trip. I felt like I had everything under control, and that is a lot thanks to Super Holiday.

How did having a tour operator on the ground there with you help? 

Yes, that was so helpful, just having someone there. I had an administrator with me there for if I needed him for disciplinary stuff with the kids, or if anything extreme happened, but I didn’t even need to use him because Casey was there to help me every step of the way. He was really great at almost giving me a script, and being like, “Hey, this is what we’re doing.” And then I’d step in front of the band and be like, “Hey, this is what we’re doing.” Having him there with me for the whole trip just put my mind at ease.

How was the big performance?

That was super cool. I think the kids loved it. I personally loved it. We woke up that morning, got to the racetrack, kids are ready to go, they were refreshed. It was a beautiful day. The area that we were supposed to rehearse at went super well, we had plenty of room. They threw some last-minute stuff at Casey and then he relayed it to me, but we were able to get through those obstacles really quick. Like, I had to change the staging last minute and I had to change how we got on the field last minute, but the kids were super responsive to it and everything went fine.

I think getting to play for that many people in the fan zone was super cool. That’s larger than any crowd that we’re probably ever going to play for.

What do you think the students got out of the trip?

I got a lot of really good feedback from parents. Of course, the kids were excited and ready to find their seats and do all sorts of stuff. Kids love to just go, go, go, and I think for a lot of them, that’s a once in a lifetime experience. I think for them, it was about getting to do the things that they would have never really been exposed to if it weren’t for band, and they were getting to do it right with all their best friends.

A lot of the parents came up to me and they were like, “Oh my gosh, they sounded so good.” One of the parents had taken a picture, there was a bald eagle flying above us the whole time at one of the performances. They sent me a picture which was really cool. One of the parents asked Casey, “Did you stage that?” And he was like, “Absolutely.”