A Trip to Verona by Reporter Natalie Paris of the Telegraph
It’s fair to say I was apprehensive about sharing a confined space at 35,000ft with 200 excited school children. As we boarded and gangs of classroom escapees scampered past swinging their kitbags, my fears appeared realised. But our flight was one of the quietest and most orderly I’ve experienced.
That’s not to say it was trauma free. Many of the pupils from Icknield Community College, in Oxfordshire, were flying for the first time in their lives and so, understandably, a few scared faces peeped out from between the seats. Next to me, a 14-year-old was tear-stained and breathing into a brown paper bag. What made her decide to come, I asked?
“My parents said I’d be missing out if I didn’t,” she replied, smiling bravely. The flight, a Monarch Airlines charter, was a much-coveted prize in a competition run by the carrier for schools across the country. This aeroplane, one of three taking pupils from winning schools on the “best day-trip ever”, was heading for Verona, home of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a text on the school syllabus.
To take her mind off the taxiing plane, my neighbour and I discussed the fact that she had never been to Italy before, but that she was keen to see Juliet’s balcony. “We saw the film,” she explained, “Leo (DiCaprio) was hot”.
Once in the air, everyone relaxed.
Monarch had hired a pair of actors in medieval dress for the occasion. In an original take on in-flight entertainment, they ran along the aisles directing pupils to act out scenes from the play in the gaps between passing meal trolleys.
As we passed over the snowy crevasses of the Alps there were gasps of appreciation.
“Flying over the mountains was really cool,” Imogen Rose, 13, said to me, “I’ve never done that before and you don’t see them in the UK.”
Later, the children were given wristbands with the phone number of a teacher written on in case they got separated - a comforting thought for someone as terrible at directions as I am.
On landing, we were whisked through security by Verona airport staff. A visit to a vintage car museum and a lunch of pizza passed by equally smoothly, before the highlight, a city tour and the chance to imagine scenes from Shakespeare’s love story brought to life.
We filed across the handsome, fortified Scaligero bridge, pausing frequently above the sparkling Adige river for the children’s ever-present camera phones to record the moment.
Did the pupils think Verona was a romantic city? “Well, the boys are fit,” one giggled, “I’d move here”.
At the Arena, the impressive Roman amphitheatre that dominates the Piazza Bra, the more spirited tested the acoustics by bellowing to friends on the other side.
But Juliet’s House was the attraction that sparked the most excitement. There was surprisingly little interest however in adding to the scrawls of graffiti left by lovers on the walls outside. This was a well behaved bunch.
We made our way instead through into the courtyard which was swimming with crowds gawping at the ivy-tangled balcony where we could imagine Juliet may have stood. “It would be more romantic if there were less people here,” remarked one of the pupils. Every other tourist was eagerly waiting for their turn to perform the tradition of giving the bronze bosom of Juliet’s statue a rub for luck.
A couple of boys in our group eventually built up the courage to try, only after spending 10 minutes daring each other to do so. Did they make a wish? “Oh no, I just wanted to grab it.”
There was just enough time left to sample a scoop or three of Italian ice cream, a universal hit. “We didn’t really believe we had won at first,” Oli Sumner, who admitted to having four scoops, told me. “It was a real shock – in a good way.”
Aside from sunshine and gelati, what had pupils gained from the day?
“I liked learning about the amphitheatre,” said Ben Mccrindle, 13. “They used to have gladiators there but now they have rock concerts – I didn’t think it would still be used.”
Florence Amery, 12, said: “It helped me with history because I can see how they lived and how it was still about politics back then. It was interesting to see that they had arguments like people do today.”
Even the teachers, final head count over with, seemed to have enjoyed themselves. “Monarch pulled out all the stops, treating us like VIPs with our own plane,” said Adam Rowe, head of drama. “It was a glimpse into Italian culture that hopefully whetted their appetite for travel and new experiences.”
Full marks all round then.
• Natalie Paris and pupils from Icknield Community College flew to Verona with Monarch Airlines.
Icknield Community College achieved its best ever results on every indicator in August 2012. For more information on this fantastic achievement for our students, staff, and parents, please read our Press Release.
In a rapidly changing world, we want to ensure that all our students at Icknield Community College are prepared and motivated to make a difference, both now and in the future and wherever they may go. Under our guiding principle of ‘Excellence for All’ we want all connected with the school to realise the potential they have in as many aspects of their lives as possible. Our Ofsted Report (July 2011) described the school as ‘a harmonious and cohesive society’, where ‘There is a shared focus on good achievement and high expectations’. This collective commitment of our students, staff, governors and parents to work together drives us to achieve the challenging targets of excellence we have set for ourselves.
We always aim to improve so that we can meet the needs of all students, guiding them to achieve excellence in whatever path they choose. We all take great pleasure in hearing about the successes of our students after they move on, whether at Oxford and Cambridge or completing their apprenticeship with flying colours. These successes are down to individual hard work and the individually-focused learning, challenge and support Icknield keeps at the heart of its teaching.
I hope this website will encourage you to visit us and find out more about what we are doing to shape the future of our school and the futures of our students.
Student Leaders operate throughout the school at all ages and make a significant contribution to what we achieve.
Year 11 take the leading student roles as Prefects and Sports Leaders. The Prefects, led by the Senior Prefect team, develop their own school improvement plan and work with the rest of the college through the council. Year 10 students run a four week Buddying Programme for all our new Year 7s that has a huge impact on how quickly these children are able to settle into a new enviroment. Sports Leaders in Year 10 take an active role in coaching younger students in a range of sports, both at Icknield Community College and our primary partner schools.
Lower years have an opportunity to represent their tutor group on the Year Councils and the Whole School Council and they are a major help to support staff on reception and environment duty.