Airplane Rules––What are are they?

All schools, camps, travel and academic programs, certainly teen volunteer programs, have clear guidelines for participants––protocols, do’s and don’ts, and inside lingo for them. VISIONS participants quickly acquire a small vocabulary for these. A buddy is the other person you must have with you before you can leave homebase, the inside perimeter of the facility where we live, after you have received permission from a staff member, a counselor, to go for a run or to the corner store or a local friend’s house nearby. No one leaves homebase alone, without a buddy.  Circle, bilan, kanatapi, allyu, semble, comunidad, and harambe are all names for the coming together of a community so that individuals may speak their minds and hearts. Every VISIONS group sets time aside each week to come together to voluntarily share insights and reactions to the days. Which word we use depends on what culture our participants are living in temporarily.

Our most serious rules  are the so-called Airplane Rules, a moniker bestowed by a VISIONS staffer many seasons ago. Airplane Rules are clearly directly defined in the enrollment contract, and there are gentle reminders of Airplane Rules during the summer program. They define and govern zero-tolerance activities –– alcohol, illegal drugs, tobacco products, harassment of others, theft, ongoing negativity, sexual relations –– a violation earns one a seat on the next airplane home. Airplane Rules help ensure every participant’s well being and safety––physical and emotional safety. They bolster a real sense of teamwork, and level the playing field for everyone. They also ensure that our host community is respected, too.

For many students VISIONS is entirely new. Immersed in a very different environment from home, kids experience things altogether foreign for an intense period of time. Just being in this new environment means that some must push their comfort zones hard. To live within and understand another culture requires being fully present, listening carefully, and freedom from, perhaps, the same old routine social activities at home.

We create a secure, reasonable framework within which VISIONS participants are free to explore and grow as much as they wish. We want them to be fully present, not sidetracked by expending energy trying to circumvent Airplane Rules. We expect everyone to abide by these only rules in VISIONS programs.

We never judge what students do in the other 11 months of the year. We simply ask that folks step back for awhile from what may be routine in order to get the most out of the new experience. This is a tremendous gift to give oneself…space to be fully in the moment, to soak up everything new.

Certainly parents appreciate our Airplane Rules. But something we especially cherish is that more than a few students who departed early for breaking an Airplane Rule nevertheless enthusiastically recommended VISIONS to friends investigating teen volunteer programs.

“I want to say thank you for a few things. The first is for you all treating me with such respect and maturity. I can’t express how refreshing it was to be spoken to without condescension. I felt as if I was treated equally as a peer and listened to in the same manner, and I really appreciate that. I also want to thank you all for enforcing the airplane rules. I’ve talked to many people and we all agree that had we been under looser circumstances the relationships we formed with you all and with each other would not have been nearly as genuine or meaningful. Plus, it was just nice not be around all those things for a month.”   –Jess, BVI participant

VISIONS in The New York Times