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Judson Middle School teacher gives students experiences of a lifetime

Mr. Gary Livingston is not your ordinary teacher.

Yes, he comes in early in the morning, before the bell, to prepare for his day. 

And yes, he stays a bit late, grading papers and preparing for the next day. 

And you may see him at an after-school event, supporting his students.

But not every teacher has the patience (and courage) to coordinate international trips with 30 middle school students, let alone plan a 15th, 16th, and 17th trip.

“These experiences are why I love teaching - it’s going beyond the classroom,” Livingston said.

His first experience abroad was when he was in college. He was selected to be a part of a program where he was able to live and study in Italy, and backpack across Europe.

“I was 22 and had the experience of a lifetime that many people would never have,” Livingston said. “As soon as I got back, I had to do it again.”

After college, unsure what his path was going to be, he started to substitute teach. With a love of history, he eventually earned a full time teaching position.

At his previous campus, he started a History Club where he would bring historians in to discuss events and take the students out to historical sites around the area.

“It worked really well and I loved it,” Livingston said.

After taking a trip to Ireland with his wife, it sparked the idea of taking students on educational trips.

“On the way back, flying out of Dublin, I saw a group of middle school students,” Livingston said. “I asked myself, ‘why am I not doing that?’ I went up to the teacher and started talking to them (about what they were doing).’”

In 2010, he found EF Educational Tours, a company that specializes in student trips, domestic and international. He took his first trip in 2011 to France with 14 students.

“We started in Paris, went up the coast in Normandy, saw some castles,” Livingston said. “I had been to Paris twice before that, so I was familiar with the city and led them around.”

To date, Livingston has done 14 trips with students, from Italy and France to Spain, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, and Peru. He’s also done domestic trips to the East Seaboard, including Boston and Washington D.C.

Because of his experiences, he also trains other teachers in San Antonio on how to put on EF Educational Tours.

This year, he will take over 40 Judson Middle School students to Central Europe. After that, he plans on taking students to Ecuador and the Galapagos islands.

“My parents thought it would be a great experience and fun, because I have never been out of the continent,” Judson Middle School 8th grader Trinity Gonzales said. “He’s one of my favorite teachers. It’s going to be a better experience with someone who knows what he is doing.”

Known as the teacher who takes students on trips, he has gained the trust of the students on campus and the parents in the community. And because of his reputation, he hasn’t had issues recruiting students to go on trips.

“I am getting 30 to 40 students to sign up for these trips,” Livingston said. “I am recruiting Japan right now for 2024 and I already have 40 students signed up. The word is already getting out that you behave and do well, you get to go with Mr. Livingston on these trips.”

Once a student gets a special invite from Livingston, he invites their parents to a meeting where he tells them all about the company and the trip. All of the logistics of the trip, including payment, room and board, and meals are all coordinated through the company.

For the community, trips like these are game-changing for a student’s educational experience.

“I fully believe that experience is the best teacher,” Livingston said. “No matter how much you read something or look at something, you don’t really know it until you’re really a part of it. By recruiting in advance, this allows our students to afford to go on trips like these,” Livingston said.

It is giving students experiences like these and allowing teachers to have experiences like these, which fosters a love for school.

“When I got into teaching, I wanted to make a difference. I think that’s why we all get into it. WE know we are not going to be super wealthy. We’d like to think that we are doing something for the next generation to help them. Being allowed to do that, even though it’s so rough right now in teaching, I can still see that I am making a difference [by going on these trips with them],” Livingston said. “These trips keep me motivated to stay in teaching and be a part of it.”

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