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ChoralNet: Should I assign seats on the bus?

Dear Choralist,

Thank you to all who responded to my request about assigning seats on
buses. I apologize for getting this compilation to you so late. (I think
I was just trying to recover from the trip!) Most of those responding were
against assigned seating and many offered alternative ideas. It was
reassuring to know that I am already doing some things right. I do have a
tour manual that clearly spells out the rules regarding PDA, and I did have
adults sit in the back. We also had Bible study time with mixed up seating
for that time. I think I will not have assigned seating next year, but I
will try out some of the great ideas mentioned below. Thanks so much!

Here is my original letter. The responses follow:
I just recently returned from taking my youth choir on tour. We had a few
>minor problems (public displays of affection, some cliques) which I think
>might be solved by having assigned seats on the bus. I would change the
>seating every day so the youth would get to sit with someone new
>everyday. What is your collective experience? Do you have any guidelines
>that you use? This is a church choir of youth in grades 6th-12th. Please
>reply privately

>If you know who the "affectionate" ones are going to be, try placing a
>sponsor (adult) right behind them. Usually, these kids like to sit in the
>back of the bus, and it's a good idea to have at least one adult in the back
>anyway. Therefore, perhaps having more responsible and vocal adult sponsors
>(e.g., over 35 years old) on the trips will cut down on the problems.
>While I can understand the motivation for assiging bus seats, I would
>steer clear of it if at all possible. Public Displays of Affection, if
>inappropriate, should be dealt with on an individual (or couple) basis.
>I don't think that as choir directors on a tour that we are also in the
>position to be social manipulators. I just took my choir to Austria
>and Germany for 10 days. I can guarantee that if I had done such things
>(I did divide them into our two busses, but that's as far as I took it)
>I would have been extremely resented for it, and the kids would not have
>had as much fun. Nothing like going on the trip of your lifetime, and
>being told you can even sit with your best friend on the bus. Cliques
>happen in the teen world, they're not just a product of a choir tour.
>I think you'd end up creating many more problems that you'd solve by
>trying to assign bus seats on a choir tour.
>Just my experience and opinion. Hope you get some good responses!
>I've done lots of traveling with kids (almost all High School) and the
>last thing I would do is assign seat on the bus. You've got a rather wide
>age spread and cliques will happen more frequently with that kind of
>disparity than if they were all Juniors and Seniors. I think that as long
>as you have things planned for the entire group to do that are appealing
>to most of the kids most of the time and most important you have a
>schedule that is full enough to prevent the "creative use of free time"
>you'll keep that typical problem in a manageable state. As far as the kids
>being affectionate, that's also pretty typical. Again, with young kids in
>the group I think you'll get farther dealing with this on a case by case
>basis. Be discrete with your conversations with those who are embarassing
>themselves without even realizing it.
>I assume you have an adequate supply of parents helping. I would never
>travel without a good ratio of adults to kids. Sometimes its easier (and
>more effective) when someone's Mom has the conversation than when the
>teacher does. Make sure your parents know what you expect of the group.
>You might also ask that parents not all sit in the front of the bus where
>they usually end up, but have at least a couple in the middle of the bus
>and a couple more towards the back.
>We've traveled for weekends, for extended periods overseas, for short
>jaunts of a couple of days. Some trips have required a lot of singing,
>some have had more sight seeing and less singing, but we've never had a
>problem, and both kids and parents have enjoyed themselves, each other,
>and the trip. (I usually travel with approximately 1 adult per 6 or 7
>kids. Because they have been older kids I haven't had to be real fussy
>about assigning rigid groups. I've also always had any supervision
>assignments rigged so that a kid is not his/her own Mom's kid on the trip.
>That's actually been a subtle way of having more than one parent checking
>on most kids from time to time.)
>I tried assigned seating and only got resentment, so I dropped that. Kids
>are going to have friends and some of those friends are closer friends than
>others. I never minded cliques as long as they weren't mean or exclusive. As
>far as PDA is concerned, I simply stated that youth could sit together in
>couples, but couldn't share a common blanket. If they were planning to sleep
>or nap, they could not sit with the opposite sex. These bus guidelines
>worked well and I've used them for more than 10 years with little problems.
>Now that I'm teaching in college, this issue has become mute. When I worked
>in music ministry, I was praised by the students, parents, and staff for
>these guidelines.
>Something else that worked for me might help you too. Anytime we had a long
>bus ride (more than 2 hours), I would break it up with a devotional,
>rehearsal, open mic joke contest-really anything that focused attention away
>from individuals and onto the group.
>I also created a rather exhaustive tour manual. If you send your snail mail
>address, I'd be happy to share it with you. I'd email it, but I've changed
>computer systems since I last used it and I'm afraid that it would lose all
>of its formatting. Good luck...
>This is a very trying time for such things. I produce tours each year all
>over the US and Europe. Of course my folks are college students but the
>same type of things take place. I just recently sent a student home from
>Dublin Ireland for drunken and disorderly behaviour.
>The first thing that I would do in your case is get with your pastor and
>youth leaders before the fall starts. You all need to sit down and make a
>unified set of policies with regard to behaviour on trips. Face it, your
>tours are a representation of your church. So, decide how you want your
>children to behave and write it up in a list of rules. Then have each
>parent and each student sign that they understand the rules and the
>consequences of breaking those rules.
>Right now we live in a very very legalistic society. Every student has the
>right to know what the limits of behaviour are and to know the consequences.
>The parents also have a right and a responsibility to support your staff
>when these trips take place.
>Once everything is in writing, in consultation with a lawyer ( I am sure you
>have one in your congregation that will lend a hand here) then you can then
>leave the responsibility of behaviour truly up to the students.
>Without that cloud hanging over you then you need to focus everything that
>you do on your trips down to spiritual matters. If the kids are doing
>little stuff like public displays of affection (necking on the bus) then you
>need to keep them busy during travel. Hormones always kick in when kids get
>bored. Target the kids you suspect will be locked to each other at the jaw
>from the beginning and have them split up. Assigned seating is good, but
>what do you do with it. I am reminded of a scene in the movie "Remember
>the Titans." Have them get to know something about each person to report
>back to the group. Or have them work on bible studies or spiritual
>enrichment things in small groups while traveling.
>Some of my best tours in my middle school days were when every minute of the
>day was planned and when we were given the opportunity to have a really
>spiritual experience.
>For me being a student, and also being in your shoes taking students on a
>bus trip, you may still run into problems assigning seats. What I have
>witnessed when I tried assigned seating is complaining, but worst certain
>groups will still talk to each other by loud talking. Now, if your
>students are really good ones, than it's probably a good idea for assigned
>seating, otherwise you may run into some more problems.
>No PDA should be built into the rules and you won't have to assign seats.
>In fact, make them sign a rule sheet!
>Generally, we use very quiet in the front and dull roar in the back!
>Every summer we went on tour with my youth choir, we had an extensive
>handbook that outlined behavior, expectations, etc. I got all of my ideas
>for such a book from the following invaluble resource-
>"Building a Successful Youth Choir Ministry- Basic Training" Vols. 1,2,3
>by Ron & Cheryll Cochran. Ó 1996 Production Resources, P.O. Box 80344,
>Portland, OR 97280, (503) 977-2923, FAX (503) 892-9866. [This is a
>great book and was invaluable to me in planning our first choir tour. I
>also highly recommend all 3 volumes. I probably need to reread it again.
>When I was directing youth choirs, this was THE best resource for tour
>planning I had. If you are going to be working with youth choirs and tour,
>you will want this resource that comes in 3 binders. It's worth every
>At least one parent of every child going on my tour had to come to a meeting
>where all of the expectations outlined in the handbook were clearly
>articulated to parent and student- if a parent could not attend the meeting,
>they could not go on tour. We had specific bus behavior, host home
>expectations, etc. The itinerary and devotional material were also in the
>handbook including several blank pages where students were encouraged to
>keep a journal or collect autographs.
>A handbook is great because you can refer to it objectively whenever an
>incident happens- I think a youth is more apt to respond to the all
>powerful commandments of THE HANDBOOK rather than arguing with an adult.
>Always worked well for us.
>It is my experience that you can't force youth to be friends with one
>another. Doing the assigned seat thing once or twice might be okay, but I
>think you will find a great deal of resistance from the kids. If they're
>like our youth, they are so busy they hardly ever get to see their friends
>from church so they need that very valuable time to bond with those people
>who will ultimately become life-long friends. Sit down with your core group
>of 'officers', or other in-charge kinds of kids and make really strict
>guidelines and stick to them. Don't punish everyone for bad choices made by
>a few kids.
>My experience has been college level, but don't think the questions don't
>come up there!
>1. Keep your rules simple, whatever they are, but enforce them
>evenhandedly. If your solo soprano has to sit out a concert, it's an
>opportunity for someone else to gain experience as well as a lesson learned.
>2. Include in those rules the prohibition of PDA, have sufficient
>chaperones, and make sure they are serious about chaperoning.
>3. I do like the idea of constantly revolving seating. But sell it in
>advance as a positive thing that will make the ensemble and its
>performances better, and get everyone to buy in. When I was at Indiana,
>the Singing Hoosiers toured quite a bit, and the "bus sociology" of
>watching who was sitting together when they left and who was sitting
>together when they got back was of lively interest!
>4. The last college group I toured with toured a LOT, and had a set of
>Operating Procedures about 8 pages long, every one of them the result of
>something that had raised a question and generated an answering decision.
>Hopefully you don't need that!
>5. On the college level the best discipline comes from the students
>themselves, IF you have a functioning leadership organization and IF they
>are really leaders who are respected. I'm not sure that would work for
>grades 6-12. Do you have an older head chorister who is authorized to keep
>things in line? That might be enough as long as you back him/her up.
>6. The one thing you don't ask about, so I assume you have it under
>control, is the wide age range and the relations between the older and
>younger students. On the other hand, my wife's church youth choir had
>about the same age range, and it was never a problem. Of course they never
>did bus tours, just parental transportation.
>7. Cliques, like death and taxes, will always be with us. Lotsa luck
>trying to fight that in this age group!
>It's really neat that you care!
>You must ABSOLUTELY have seating assignments to HELP prevent any problems. I
>tend to seat the boys together near the front of the bus where I can keep an
>eye on them. I seat my "best" girls together near the rear of the bus. In
>addition I would recommend that your parent chaperones seat throughout the
>bus, but definitely at the back of the bus.
>Parent appreciate this, and you will rest much easier. I just took two
>chartered bus trips with 7th/8th graders to Kings Island and Kentucky
>Kingdom. The kids still can pair up if you're not looking. I try to use
>humor and a little bit of good-natured embarrassment to keep anything
>"stupid" from happening.
>I do a short weekend trip with my junior high choir and band every spring
>(to Disneyland). I have found the seating chart method works really well.
>I keep the seating the same for the whole trip. I have found that once
>you change seating around, they will keep asking for other changes. The
>seating chart helps the parent chaperones learn the kids names really
>fast, allowing for easier discipline. It also helps at rest stops, etc.
>for taking roll fast.
>By the way, I have a good method for stopping public displays of affection.
>I have a cell phone handy, and when they are caught, they have to call
>there parents to tell them what they did right then. For repeated
>infractions, they have to call the other party's parents. It sounds a bit
>tough, but just the threat of the consequence seems to stop any
>problems. Hope this helps.
>Fratricizing is not what the trip is about and the youth ought to be
>informed about that before everyone leaves. If there is fratricizing, or
>public displays of affection, or even private partnering, then it is not
>And after a first warning, then the youth is sent home
>And you need to be prepared to follow through on the
>will only happen once
>Keep parents informed as well.
>If the youth do not like this rule then they are coming along on the choral
>trip for the wrong reason and they can stay at home.
>How's that......firm enough?
>The arranged seating is not the best idea, nor is switching seating seating
>all that helpful.......They will find away around the setup.
>I am the choral director at Florida Christian School and we take lots of
>trips. The problem we had was really more gossip about what happened on
>the bus rather than actual misconduct. To solve that problem, I do not
>allow girls and bows to sit next to each other after dark. I have
>explained to my choir that this is protect their reputation. They have
>accepted it quite well and now, they just know that when the sun goes down
>they have to be sitting with someone of the same sex. It hasn't been a
>problem. Hope this helps.
>As a band and choir director in the public schools and
>churches, I have played with this problem a bit
>myself. I have always tried to use a seating plan
>that contained some flexibility, and mix it up if
>we're on a multi-day tour. My default proceedure is
>to load the bus by seniority, seniors down, letting
>the students choose any seat as they load. On a tour,
>I will try any and all of the following, just to mix
>people up.
>Girls on one side, boys on the other
>Loading the bus in reverse order (its fun having the
>older kids up front sometimes)
>Seating in sections (always on the way to a
>competition or performance, we sit this way to allow
>warm up on the bus if we are running late)
>Loading by birthdays
>I've never gone so far as to "assign" seats. Loading
>the bus in different orders mixes people up without
>forcing them to sit by a specific person. Of course,
>I always reserved the right to break up PDA and
>cliquish behavior directly. Usually, I have one or
>more of the offenders sit in the front with me, and
>then I talk to them the rest of the way. Hopefully
>it's not too much of a
>Try girls on one side of the bus and guys on the other. I had the same
>I take my choirs on tour every year and each year the problems are
>different. I teach high school but I think these helps will work for any
>age. We usually have chaperones for every eight students. The couples
>will find a way to sit together so I usually sit them at the front of the
>bus directly behind or to the side of an adult. I also tell them
>straight out that we don't want to watch the pda's. The chapeones always
>monitor the couples by not allowing groups of two ever. Groups of four or
>more is the key: somehow a chapeone always ends up in the groups of kids
>you want to watch the most. Also, I pack the tour schedule so tight they
>have virtually no free time.
> Night time in the hotel is the most difficult. I have the hotel put boys
> on one floor and girls on the other. Some years I have put the chaps in
> with the kids if there are enough. It means the chaperones don't sleep
> as much. We do bed check at 11, 12, and 1am. I also assign shifts and
> place chaperones for hour shifts in the halls so they don't sneak out. I
> must admit to patrolling the halls longer then that a year or so back.
> Depends on the group dynamics. Hope this helps.
>I use a rotation schedule. We use two buses and we have about 12 set
>groups. The small groups (about 6 or 8) are always together but the
>groups rotate each day. I've been using this for about 8 years now and it
>seems to work well. Let me know if you would like to see our rotation
>schedule. I also use the groups to take attendance.

Debbie Gilbert