Learning on Location: Walt Disney World’s Y.E.S. Programs

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By Kristi Letsinger

Although most people think of Walt Disney World as a fun escape from reality, it can also be a unique place for young people to learn more about themselves and subjects they care about. Disney World’s Youth Educations Series programs are a great way to immerse kids in the arts and humanities, leadership and careers, and the natural and physical sciences. The Y.E.S. program offers a wide variety of topics and activities throughout the different parks at WDW.

Each category offers a selection of classes that are sure to make a lesson come alive in a way a textbook never could. For example, where better to learn about physics than by analyzing rides at the Magic Kingdom in “Disney’s World of Physics: Properties of Motion” class? (For more information about each program, visit Disney’s Youth Groups website.)

Disney offers this program to youth groups that have 10 or more participants. If your group participates in a program, the cost of daily park tickets is highly discounted. (There is a set ticket price that you can get on the website for the Y.E.S. program. Each 3-day park hopper ticket cost us $126 each.) Adults and kids alike are able to get the group rate. Each participant in the program also receives a Disney Y.E.S. sling backpack.

If your group registers with the Y.E.S. program there is also the opportunity to get dining cards. My students each paid $60 for cards that they used on the trips. These cards do not expire and can be reloaded for a future trip. This was a wonderful way to make sure that my kids did not spend all of their money on supplies and had enough left each day to eat!

During President’s Day Weekend I took a group of parents and children to Disney World to participate in a Y.E.S. Arts and Humanities program, “Magic Behind the Show: Improv and Teamwork.” Our group chose the “Magic Behind the Show” program because we are a middle school drama club.

On the day of our trip we arrived at Epcot for our 8:45 a.m. program. Parking was free on this day with our confirmation Y.E.S. letter. We were met by three group leaders who would spend the next three hours with our group. We had to break our kids into two groups with about 10 kids in each group. Only three chaperones were allowed with the kids, so our other chaperones were able to explore the park on their own for three hours.

We entered Epcot and began to learn about working as a team through activities. We made noises, faces, and did story improvisation while being watched by the people walking by. The kids seemed to forget all about the crowds as they did the activities. We spent some of the time in an area around Spaceship Earth, and more time in the building behind the Living Seas. It was just our group in the building as we did more games and performed for each other. After doing many team-building activities, our group was taken to the building behind the Coral Reef restaurant and the Living Seas.

Both groups did improvisation games and all students were encouraged to participate and join in. (For example, they made up a story three ways — using only body language, using a foreign made-up language, and using verbal language. More games included making up uses for props, and starting a scene for others to take over.) The leaders of the groups made the kids feel comfortable and good about what they were doing, and offered suggestions on how to make the performances better. All of the activities were leading up to a final “show” where the two groups would show off what they had learned to each other.

The improv show was a lot of fun as the kids played different roles and parts. Many of the kids showcased their talents for us to see. From using props in different ways to translating for an alien who only spoke jibberish, our group had a blast!

When the program ended, we were already in Epcot and were able to spend the rest of the day exploring the park. Although initially I didn’t think the kids wanted to do the program at all because they were “losing” valuable park time, after the program was finished, I think that the length was just right to hold their attention and make it interesting. The kids were excited, and I heard a lot of comments from them about it being fun. The kids ended up learning more about improv and thinking on the spot, and benefited from the teamwork exercises.

I wish that we had participated in this program on our first day rather than our last, so the kids are more fresh and ready to go. The kids are ready to do it again next year!

For more information go to: http://disneyyouthgroups.disney.go.com/wdyp/home.

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