Our Virtual College Road Trip is About More Than Just College

By Kelly Cohen and Dena Shaffer

Imagine the wind in your hair and good music coming out of your car radio. You and your family are road tripping to a college town. You are going to find the best burger place, sit on the grass in the quad and dream about the future. You might even check out the Hillel while you are there or see that family friend who is now a student. You might sit in on a class, you might go to a game, but you won’t go home without that hoodie from the campus store that says, “I went somewhere, and I am going somewhere.”  

The college visit road trip, more than just a rite of passage for those fortunate to have the means, is an inherently hopeful act. For many of our teens and parents, visiting campuses is the culmination of years of work and planning, studying and dreaming. It is that first step out of the house and into adulthood. There are so many hopes and expectations wrapped up in finding the right school. The school you can get into. The school you can afford. The school where you can be happy and flourish.  

Planning for the future is a hard thing to do right now. In so many ways the future is unclear. Families are potentially dealing with financial realities due to COVID-19 that seemed impossible just months before. On top of that with cancelled Spring Breaks and prom behind them and cancelled camp and graduations still ahead teens are feeling robbed of key moments in their lives. While those losses are small compared to the global unrest, they are real for our teens and their families.  

With no ability to travel, the college visit road trip seemed destined to be yet another milestone cancelled. That is why JumpSpark Atlanta, 4Front Baltimore and the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Collaborative are partnering for the first-ever national virtual road trip for all college-bound teens and their parents. Since the road trip kicked off at the end of May, over 6,000 teens and their families have visited Roadtriptocollege.org. In the first week of programming, more than 500 people attended sessions with thousands more engaging with social media content. As families and teens #Jumponthebus throughout the month of June, they are able to join virtual college tours with current students, admissions staff, and Hillel professionals, participate in teen and parent workshops and interact via daily student takeovers on Instagram.   

Amidst all the excitement of college exploration, the virtual road trip has also emerged as an important platform to process the fact that both the road we’re on right now and the one ahead are rough. From uncertainty about the future of on-campus experiences to the turmoil currently wracking our country in the weeks since George Floyd’s murder, staff from Atlanta and Baltimore have leveraged the road trip to explore things like the impact of Covid-19 on the admissions process, the importance of diversity to the college experience, the role of higher education in anti-racism, and the history of student activism and Black-Jewish cooperation in university settings. 

In short, this has evolved beyond what any of us could have imagined when the virtual college road trip idea was first generated. It is more than just college information sessions moved to Zoom. Rather, it is a deep immersive experience, exploring through a unique lens the issues that matter and seeking to recapture the feeling of actually visiting a school, speaking with students and faculty and imagining yourself there. In the midst of this pandemic and national tragedy, a new concrete way has been created to help teens envision and transition to the next chapter of their Jewish lives.  

And it is more than that, too. This is giving families back something which we all so desperately need at this time – the opportunity to engage in hopeful acts together.  

So, how can you #Jumponthebus? 

1.       Visit RoadTriptoCollege.org  

This is the home base for everything happening on the college road trip. Find information about all the colleges, students and workshops being featured. Browse the resources or register for information sessions, parent webinars and teen workshops. Miss something?  Sessions are also on-demand on our YouTube channel. 

2.       Follow our Bus Drivers at @JumpSparkATL and @4FrontBaltimore

Over 100 college students or recent graduates have been engaged meaningfully to help drive this experience. JumpOnTheBus and follow our student ‘bus drivers’ on Instagram Stories to get their insider guides to their campus and college towns – what they love, what makes the place special, and what Jewish life is like there. More than a virtual tour, here’s your?chance to see things through a student’s eyes. Reference each college page for social links, dates and times of these tours.

3.       Turn up the tunes with our student curated Jump on the Bus Spotify playlist 

4.       Check out our TikTok to see daily college student-created videos about their schools. 

Kelly Cohen is Director of JumpSpark in Atlanta. Rabbi Dena Shaffer is Executive Director of 4Front Baltimore, which is supported by The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, the Myerhoff Family Charitable Funds, and the Jim Joseph Foundation and managed by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore.

Inspired by Springboard Chicago, which ran a virtual College Road trip in partnership with JCC Camp Chi in March, this immersive iteration was the brain child of JumpSpark, based in Atlanta, and originally featured colleges and universities in the South. Through the cooperative opportunities of The Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, 4Front Baltimore joined up and added schools from the mid-Atlantic, growing the list to over 30 schools. In collaboration with Hillel International, additional campuses have been added and offerings will continue for prospective families and incoming students in the coming year. The Funder Collaborative is an innovative philanthropic experiment. In an unprecedented collaboration, national and local funders work together to develop, nurture and scale new approaches to teen engagement. This innovative learning and sharing network has created an environment that fosters risk-taking, experimentation and ongoing reflection.