Short Travels, Forever Memories

Short Travels, Forever Memories

With a layover in Atlanta, Georgia, the kids had plenty of time to introduce themselves and start forming friendships—friendships that would only grow stronger in the next four days. For some more experienced flyers, four hours of airtime is no big deal, but for others who have never flown before, flying without their families can be worrisome.

“I had never flown before. My family drives everywhere, so this was a change for me,” said sophomore Kendra Rafferty.

Luckily, regardless of students’ flying experience, French class mascot Pierre the duck was always around for moral support.

“I have traveled by airplane many times. The experience flying to and from NOLA was uneventful, which is exactly how I want air travel to be,” said Mrs. Zaleski, Greater Latrobe French teacher and chaperone of the New Orleans travels.


     It didn’t take long for the students to notice the changes in scenery and culture as they flew from Latrobe to New Orleans.

“This place is definitely southern,” remarked Senior French student Maddie Duda as she gazed out the window of the coach bus.

As the bus journeyed further from the airport and closer to the city, the students observed the distinct French culture and architecture becoming more prominent in their surroundings.

“It looks like we’re in Florida, I know we’re not, but it feels like it. And then you see a really French building, and you realize how much culture is around you,” shared senior Jiannia Kaczmarkiewicz.

Upon landing at 9:00 on January 4, 2024, the group embarked on a bus tour to acquaint themselves with the new culture and surroundings. They admired the views from the streets and explored historical sights around Jackson Square.

“Driving in, it was very jazz-filled. I expected some of that, but not to that extent. New Orleans culture was very different from Latrobe in that sense,” reflected Rafferty.

     Seven hours after landing in NOLA, the 23 travelers got to meet their tour guide for the next two days, Joseph Dunn. Dunn, who previously served as the executive director for The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, transitioned to independent tourism and entrepreneurship, overseeing the public relations of Louisiana’s Creole Heritage Site.

“We walked all through downtown, and he didn’t stop for a breath. We spent 3 days in a row with him, and it was cool to get to know him. I learned he’s government-level French-speaking, which is really cool,” said Rafferty.

“Joe was a fantastic tour guide. He was extremely knowledgeable but never pedantic or esoteric. He was equally relatable to those completely ignorant of NOLA culture as he was with those with a greater understanding of the region and its history,” said Zaleski.

Under Dunn’s leadership, the students embarked on an hour-and-a-half-long walking tour to experience the sights of the city up close. Dunn’s familiarity with the ins and outs of the New Orleans cityscape allowed him to teach the students the history of specific buildings and the development of specific blocks and strips, providing a live and in-person learning experience. Being on-site and experiencing Louisiana brought what these students were learning to life. Interacting with people who live in New Orleans showed the students the diversity among the city’s residents.

“There is no New Orleans accent. You never know where anyone is from. Everyone has their own background and story,” said Duda.

     After a quick night’s sleep, the students and teachers hit the road again to tackle day two (January 5, 2024) head-on. The first stop on the itinerary for day two was the historical Louisiana landmark, the Laura Plantation. A short, one-hour bus ride from the hotel, and the group was reacquainted with expert Joseph Dunn for their guided tour around the plantation.

This tour was undoubtedly a favorite part of the trip for many students and certainly a time when they did the most reflecting and asked questions, eager to absorb all the information that Dunn had to offer. The tour was unique because it was narrative-driven. Dunn showed the students through each room of the house, introducing them to the family that lived there and sharing their story. The most impactful aspect of what Dunn did for these students was that he compelled them to piece together the information he provided to fully understand what the house represented. Dunn was transparent about the property’s history and the events that occurred during its active harvesting, ensuring that students understood the significance of the plantation and its past.

“We all read about it, but being in the house where it most likely took place really made those facts hit home,” said Zaleweski.

“It was so sad, but getting to see those people’s stories was really incredible,” said Kaczmarkiewicz.

Initially, students expressed feelings of guilt being on the plantation grounds, as though it was wrong to walk on property that was built on so much suffering. Joe acknowledged that many visitors have felt this way and stated that, from his perspective, people should be in spaces like the plantation to connect with and understand history.

After the plantation tour concluded and the students had some time to talk to and ask questions of Joseph, the group said goodbye and headed off to their next destination. The bus ride was notably quiet after the plantation, as students reflected on the stories and tragedies they had heard during the tour.


     Next on the New Orleans adventure, the group explored the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). At this location, the 23 students and three chaperones were split into two groups to be guided through the museum. They learned about French artwork and admired modern art and techniques featured in the NOMA. One of the groups, in particular, had an exciting tour guide that made the museum visit even more enjoyable.

“Our guide made the museum visit quite fun. She was a crazy older lady with a young heart and did her best to entertain a bunch of teens during a rainstorm,” said Zalewski.

“I really liked our tour guide; she was really funny, which made the tour ten times better. It [the tour] was very history-packed and very informative. I enjoyed looking at the art and learning about the stories behind them,” said Rafferty.

     To conclude day two, the students and chaperones were invited to a costume banquet with the Krewe of the annual Joan of Arc parade. The krewe, responsible for designing and funding the floats and costumes seen in well-known French carnival parades, hosted the event.

Prior to the trip, the Latrobe travelers put together and designed medieval costumes to wear to the banquet. Throughout the night, the students and teachers received compliments on how well everyone in the group had designed their costumes. The banquet featured a candlelit dinner with a traditional king cake served at the end.

“I loved the candle-lit atmosphere. It made the evening really cool, and the music and food—just so fun to dress up and be in New Orleans,” said Zaleweski.

After dinner, the krewe presented a memorial service and a birthday celebration for Joan of Arc and her story. Joan is a monumental figure in French and New Orleans culture.

“I really liked when they did the reenactment of Joan’s life. It was really cool to see the people dressed in costumes,” said Rafferty.

This banquet served as the final gathering for the krewe before they put on the annual Joan of Arc Parade, which marks the beginning of the French carnival season. After the banquet, the group eagerly headed back to the hotel to get some rest for the busy day planned ahead.


     To kick off day three, the students embarked on a tour of Mardi Gras World, the largest warehouse of parade floats in New Orleans. Upon arrival, the group settled in to watch a roughly 20-minute-long movie that introduced them to the amazing sculptures they were about to see. After the movie concluded, the group’s dedicated tour guide introduced himself and kicked off the tour. The first stop included a quick snack featuring the classic Mardi Gras King cake. Then, the tour took them around the warehouse, showing the students each step of making huge parade floats. Students had some time to roam around the warehouse and explore sculptures that interested them.

As lunchtime approached, the travelers gathered their things and moved to the Mardi Gras World crafting room, where they crafted their own Mardi Gras masks and learned about the origins of Mardi Gras masks


     To conclude day three, the students dressed up in new Renaissance costumes provided by the Joan of Arc Krewe to participate in a celebratory parade through the streets of New Orleans. The Joan of Arc Parade is an annual event that marks the beginning of the French carnival season and kicks off Mardi Gras. The Latrobe Travelers wore a wide array of costumes, with some students dressed as nuns, others representing fire, some portraying shepherds, and a few even taking on the role of Joan of Arc herself. The parade lasted for an hour and a half, with the streets packed with spectators.

“It was nothing like the downtown Latrobe Parade. This was a professional-level celebration,” said Kaczmarkiewicz.

The parade was organized in a way that ensured everyone had a role to play, whether it was pulling wooden sheep, riding a statue horse, or carrying a banner. Every student was involved in one way or another.

“Overall, the parade was an incredible experience, but I was unprepared for how cold it was,” said Rafferty.

Due to the length of the parade, it was unclear when all of the Latrobe students and chaperones would be back together. While the students at the front of the parade were waiting, they took a trip to a local fast-food restaurant to warm up. Once everyone was reunited, the group started their around 30-minute walk back to the hotel for a quick night’s sleep to wrap up day three.


     “We only have one day left! Time really flies,” said Kaczmarkiewicz.

The beginning of the last day started with breakfast at the hotel before setting off on a 15-minute walk. The first destination on Sunday’s itinerary was the National WWII Museum. Upon arrival, the Pennsylvania travelers checked in for a screening of a four-dimensional motion picture called Beyond All Boundaries, starring Tom Hanks.

“The 4D film immerses your senses into the action. The sound is terrifying, the vibrations make you feel as if you are on the tanks or planes or near the bombs. As you sit through the movie, you are feeling the event. It makes me cry every time because so many lived this reality of terror every day for months and years,” said Zaleweski.

After the movie concluded, the 23 students and chaperones split into three groups and explored the history-filled walls of the museum.

“I didn’t realize how big the museum was. When we got there, I thought we’d be spending an hour or two there, but we ended up staying around six hours. There was so much to see and learn, and I didn’t even get to see it all,” said Rafferty.

     To conclude their journey, the 19 students and 3 chaperones eagerly boarded the Creole Queen, a cruise ship known for its live jazz performances. As they stepped aboard, the students were greeted by a three-person jazz band.

The Creole Queen’s beautiful interior and scenic views of the Mississippi River provided the perfect backdrop for the group’s final moments together. 

As they set sail, the students experienced the views taking in the iconic landmarks. The melodies of jazz music filled the air.

For many of the students, witnessing a live jazz performance was a first-time experience.. The lively ambiance onboard  created the perfect atmosphere for relaxation as the group reflected on their unforgettable journey together.

“I had no expectations of the jazz cruise; I figured we’d eat and listen to music. Our students seemed to love the overall ambiance. It was so rewarding to see our students having such a good time with each other and with others on the cruise,” said travel agent Jewel Rozanski.

As the cruise came to an end, the students ventured off the Creole Queen with hearts full of cherished memories and newfound friendships. Though their journey had come to a close, the experiences shared and bonds formed would last a lifetime.

Check Out This Pre-Departure Review

Embarking on an exciting journey to New Orleans, Louisiana is life-changing. Nineteen Greater Latrobe High School students and two educators will take on NOLA. From January 4 – January 8, 2024, with the expertise and planning of travel agent Jewel Rozanski and chaperones Mrs. Katie Zalewski and Mr. Jeffrey Duda, This carefully planned jam-packed four days in Louisiana promises an immersive and wide view of the history in New Orleans and the culture found in Louisiana….

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