FAIRMONT - One hundred Fairmont Junior/Senior High School students will hop on a bus in the wee hours of Thursday morning and drive straight through, day and night and day again, until they reach California.
The band students will spend the next week and a half performing in the state and taking in the sights - from Disneyland and Universal Studios to Madame Tussaud's wax museum and the San Diego Zoo.
The students have been practicing their routine all summer, marching in area community parades. They will march in four parades during their trip.
Fairmont’s marching band performs in the Interlaken Heritage Days Parade in Fairmont earlier this month.
While students could learn the notes and steps without driving halfway across the country, these trips have a benefit outside of strict music education.
"The biggest benefit of the trip is getting to see another culture," said band director Kate Kallenbach. "I know it is still part of the U.S., but no matter where you go in this country, it is another culture."
It is a perk of the performing arts that students have chances like this.
"It gives these opportunities to travel and see other cultures," she said. "When it comes to a regular class, you don't get those opportunities."
Fairmont Area gives students finishing 8th grade through graduates the opportunity to travel every three years, and Kallenbach lets the kids choose, within reason, where they go.
The last trip was to the East Coast; before that, the West Coast.
Performance opportunities, along with the sightseeing destinations, are coordinated by a tour company. It cost each student $1,400 to participate in the trip, much of which was raised through fundraising.
"A lot of people say the trip is just for the rich kids," Kallenbach said. "It isn't. Everyone has the opportunity."
The students are supported by the community in their door-to-door fundraising efforts, and in other ways as well, all of which Kallenbach appreciates.
She said the Kiwanis Early Risers held a community fundraiser for the trip, and Red Rock for the Arts donated space for a concert where fund were raised.
"We really appreciate the support," she said.
Kallenbach said students are looking forward to many different aspects of this trip. Some are talking about performing in front of very large crowds, others about Disneyland, and others about taking a ferry to Coronado Island.
This will be Kallenbach's fourth trip with the band program, and she definitely has a favorite.
"I have loved them all," she said, "but I would like to make it a tradition to go every six years to the East Coast. It is the most educational and historical part of the country."
Kallenbach said the fact that the students had studied many of the areas they toured - including the 9/11 site - made it a meaningful area to see in person.
"They have a great time," Kallenbach said, "but they come away so moved."
Kallenbach said she looks forward to the end of the trip, the bus ride home, where she gets to hear from the students what they liked the best about the trip. It often surprises her.
"After our last trip, I thought the kids would really like New York, with its busyness," she said. "But a lot of them said they liked how beautiful Boston was."
Before the trip, Kallenbach talks to the parents and students about the opportunity they will have on the bus to put the character education they learn at school into practice, and how to politely ask someone to stop doing something.
"They will be annoyed about something," she said, adding one of the best parts of every trip is seeing friendships form between students who didn't even know each other before the trip, and noting how the older students look out for the younger students.
The band and its 10 chaperones leave in a three-bus convoy Thursday and return July 6.
"We have kids grumbling about having to spend 30 hours on a bus with their classmates come home and say it was the best trip they have taken," she said.