Journalism Conference Part 2 – The Windy City hits the Pepper Box

Editor’s Note –  I realized that I may want to avoid specifics and speak in generalities about the “bad” part of the trip, so it took me until the semester had ended to amend this post.

You’ve waited long enough. The deep tease is finally over and it is time to reveal how two of the best days that I’ve experienced turned into one of the biggest nightmares that I have ever had to deal with.

On Saturday morning of the trip we got an extra hour of sleep because we did not qualify for the buzzer rounds of the Quiz Bowl. This probably turned out to be a really good thing, as the sessions on day 2 were the ones that my students came home buzzing about. As I typed out the session list for my kids, they all seemed to circle the same ones.

There were a few LGBTQ+  sessions that my students gravitated towards, and then we all met up at a session led by a Native American group that is intent on eliminating offensive mascots from high schools. Our school mascot is the Husky, and one of my students had some Native American heritage, but otherwise it was not an issue that seemed central to any of my kids or our school. However, what became clear was that the focus of this group was on how they could use their power as journalists to educate others about minority and/or oppressed groups. It was pretty impressive to see a bunch of teenagers decide that the best thing they could do was to help others with the opportunities that were afforded to them.

The discussions after these sessions led to some planning sessions for big stories that we are planning to do this year. We just finished our first one since the trip, and we have already seen positive results from the trip.

We met up again as a whole group for lunch at the Rainforest Café. I miscalculated the number of riders for our Uber, so I ended up walking across Chicago to meet the group, and when I arrived, I saw that one of my staff had created an event for the next day called “Stein Appreciation Day.” I brought these kids to Chicago selfishly to help our newspaper grow and to grow them as editors, but I was really thankful to know that this group was so aware of everything we were doing for them, and for them to know that I was such a sucker for stuff like that.

After we enjoyed a nice lunch, as well as an interaction with a balloon artist who entertained us with his mastery, we walked back, balloon animals in tow, towards the hotel to change for what was supposed to be a whole group bonding activity between all 15 of us while playing laser tag. This is when the tone of the conference started to change.

The other teacher took the first van with all of her staff and one member of mine, since they were the students who were going to be the active participants in laser tag. Most of my staff was planning to watch, but didn’t necessarily want to participate, so we waited for the valet to pull up the second car.

Only the second car never came. We had our ticket, but the valet could not find the car in their lot.

Apparently, without anyone knowing it for two days since we dropped it off at valet, our rental car had been stolen.

Since it was now Saturday night, the rental car place we had rented from in St. Louis was closed. We had no idea of the information about the car because the school district had rented it for us, and we were about 14 hours away from needing to drive back to St. Louis. I spent what turned out to be most of my evening doing the following things: figuring out that our car was stolen, being driven to Midway airport for what was supposed to be an easy replacement rental, figuring out that the company could not rent another vehicle to me because they have a policy about renting multiple vehicles to people, and searching the other car rental companies to find a car big enough to seat all of our kids and their luggage. Lets just say that on the drive back towards the hotel I blasted some music and sang some lyrics that I couldn’t have sung with the kids in the car.

During the time that I was dealing with the stolen car, the laser tag group had come back, and the other teacher took our whole group to a trivia night event that was wrapping up the conference. I was getting messages on our group chat with everyone feeling bad that I had to deal with that while they were having fun, and that I needed to get there quickly because they were in first. I finally got back to the hotel, watched the valet get into my car and drive it away, threw some water on my face, and walked over to the trivia night. I ate a lot more pizza than I should have, and the frustration turned to fun, as our group had a lot of fun together that night. We didn’t win the trivia, but it was a great culminating event.

We slept in the next morning. My group took one last walk in the city to a souvenir shop, and I held my breath as I handed my ticket to the valet to get the car. One thing I hadn’t done when I got the new car was to investigate anything more than that it had enough seats for all of us. It definitely had enough seats, but there was barely any trunk space.

What started as an amazing, enlightening conference, quickly turned into a disheartening and anxiety-inducing one. Oh yeah, don’t forget exhausting.

As horrible as it was to have to deal with a grand theft auto on a school trip, I just kept reminding everyone that nobody was in the car, nobody got hurt, and we did eventually make it home. It also gave us a story that reverberated through the hotel that morning, and that I have been retelling to other teachers for the last month. The kids were appreciative for everything that I did while dealing with the car incident, and they were thrilled to get back and start making our newspaper better.

And if you are still hanging in there with me from the first post about this conference, let me tell you that the kids did not forget their promise. Even though we were beaten up physically and emotionally, and there was so little trunk space that people could barely move in the car, we spent the first two hours out of Chicago with a Hamilton sing along blaring throughout the car.

Even after the whole adventure, the drive home just made me smile.

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