A former graduate of West Florence High School, Nikki Raines is now in her 9th year as the choir teacher at her alma mater.

It wasn’t her original plan when walking across the stage and picking up her diploma, but serendipity and strong mentors led Raines to her current position at the Southern Carolina high school. Beginning as a performance major, an education professor convinced her to try out teaching and she ended up loving it. “It kind of happened by accident, but I know it’s really what was meant to be all along,” Raines says.

Then, student teaching under her own former teacher, Alonzo Davis, led her to step into his shoes at West Florence. Along with that role, as Raines works to keep Davis’ traditions alive, came the trips the choir regularly takes with Super Holiday Tours. We chatted with Raines about her fond memories and the challenges she’s overcome to get back on the road.

Do you remember traveling with the choir and Super Holiday when you were a student?

I remember my first experience going to Disney World with the choir and performing and the candlelight processional. And that was one of the biggest things in my high school career, a great memory that I think of. I’m not sure that I would have had that experience had I not been involved with that specific extracurricular activity. And I think a lot of our kids would never get to travel out of state, would never get to do a lot of the things that we do, which I think is one of the reasons travel is so important to me. It’s giving these kids experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t get.

What trips are coming up next?

I’m kind of in two different places right now. I’m leading my choir to Gatlinburg, Tennessee this fall. We’re going to Dollywood to perform in November. And I’m also in charge of our international travel club. We just got back from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. And now we’re planning next summer to go to Greece. So, I’m kind of all over the place right now, but I love it, and it’s always so fun to take kids new places.



Do you have any highlights from your time traveling?

With my show choir, who does most of the traveling with me and we go away for three days, and it’s nice to see the bonding that happens. Some of these kids may not know each other that well day one of the trip, but by the time we’re on the way back home, they’re inseparable. And it makes our class time when we get back a lot easier and more enjoyable, because it’s like one big family. So, it’s a good experience to travel and the educational aspects of it, but the bonding is what really means a lot. A singing group, you have to be so close, and everybody has to work so seamlessly together.

It’s really kind of a before and after thing when we get back. It’s a totally different group.

Travel is clearly important to you. What challenges have you had to overcome to make it happen?

It was very difficult to get our district to allow us to travel again. In 2020, when we were back at school the next fall, we were planning a trip and it took me forever to get permission, with all of the safety information and a lot of paperwork, and just explaining that it’s important still. It was kind of a struggle to get approval, and it was kind of an issue singing and performing with the masks, but I feel like it just made my kids more resilient in the long run. And it was something they really wanted to do and they were willing to be uncomfortable at times to make it happen. It all worked out in the long run, but it was a struggle.



And how has Super Holiday helped with all this?

I have nothing but incredible things to say about Super Holiday. All of my teacher friends who are thinking about planning trips, I give them Super Holiday’s name. Jennifer, who is our tour consultant, Jennifer Cooper, she has become a dear friend and it’s so much more than a business relationship. And I treasure that, and I know that anything that I need, I can reach out to her. She has just been so personable, and you can tell that she genuinely cares about all of her clients. So, I know that if I have questions or concerns, that she’s going to be able to help me with whatever it is. All of the organization that goes into what she does, I just call her a magician sometimes, because the stuff that she makes happen, I don’t know how she does it.

She meets us day one and she’s with us on the bus, and any traffic issues she’s aware of, and she knows all of the best shortcuts. “Okay, don’t park here, the bus needs to be in this lane.” So, the logistical aspects of it kind of leaves the director to not have to worry about all of that stuff, and she just kind of takes control. All of the logistical things, getting from point A to point B in a timely manner, she’s absolutely amazing at that. And that takes a huge worry off of the director, who’s probably worrying about 100 other things.

Any advice for other teachers?

I think if you have even the first thought of, “Okay, I want to take my kids to this place,” I think you should definitely not doubt yourself and definitely do the research and look into it. And don’t be afraid to take kids away. It seems like a daunting thing, being in charge of all these kids overnight and sometimes out of state, but with the right support, if you have the right tour company, and if you’ve planned it well, it’s really a rewarding experience for you and a growing experience for you as an educator. You have to think about 100 different things than you think about in your classroom, so it’s definitely a growth experience for the adults, and for the kids as well. So, I would just say go with your gut, go with your instincts, and if you are even thinking about travel, then you should definitely do it.

Photos Courtesy of Nikki Raines.