Tomorrow my third grade class is taking a field trip to a local Mexican restaurant as a culminating activity to our study of Mexico. This got me thinking back to my own experience with field trips and one in particular that stands out in my memory, twenty five years later.
"Nature's Classroom" was the field trip that made you so excited about becoming a sixth grader at St. William the Abbot. It was a rite of passage. Every year, the sixth grade classes and their teachers went to Nature's Classroom in Connecticut (we are in Long Island, NY) from Monday to Friday. It was a sleep-away from home trip where you would spend the week engaged in hands-on learning activities involving the natural environment. You would sleep in bunk beds in girls only or boys only cabins, depending on who you were. We were split into different groups and had a counselor who was in charge. Our meals were all in a mess hall and I still remember "the ort report." Ort was apparently waste and they would measure how much food you wasted. As a group, we were always aiming to have less waste.
I remember "Walk Don't Run Hill" which was a steep hill leading to our cabins, where you were supposed to...um, walk not run. I remember the nightly sing-alongs when we would all gather in the mess hall and one of the counselors would play his guitar and we would sing songs like "Moon Shadow" and "The Rose". Those sing-alongs remain one of my favorite memories of this memorable trip. There was such a feeling of peace and community in those hopeful songs.
I remember the invention convention, when we had to present a new invention we made. I remember the night-time walk through the forest and the counselors pointing out how bright the stars were. They said that the stars were always that bright but the lights in our neighborhoods made them seem dimmer. At Nature's Classroom, with not much around, the stars were brilliant. I remember that winter green lifesavers were supposed to spark in the dark. I remember trust activities where we were supposed to fall backwards off a ping-pong table (could that be right?) and have our classmates catch us.
I also remember being terribly home-sick. Not one to venture far without my family, when postcards and letters arrived for us, I still remember my mom's "Happy Gram" which had a huge yellow smiley face on it. It made me weep. It reminded me so much of my mom and home and although I was having the time of my life, I also missed the safety and security of home.
There are so many things about my K-12 education that are fuzzy now. So many things I've forgotten, but the things I remember clearly tell me something about memory and learning. 25 years later, I remember my counselor's name was Jen, the "ort report", "Walk Don't Run Hill", the cabin and the bunk beds. I remember the songs and the feelings. It was a trip full of experiences and emotions and THAT is what makes someone remember. When we can give students experiences of DOING- creating, singing, playing, exploring and we can make them FEEL some emotion- hopefully positive....well, then we will be creating the lessons that they will never forget, too.
I don't know if St. William's still takes sixth graders to Nature's Classroom. Looking back on it now, I can't believe my teachers gave up a week of time with their own families to do that- a week without any real privacy or alone time. How generous of them to do that for us! I hope they realize that the experience is one I think of often and has influenced me greatly. "The Rose" became one of my favorite songs, a lullaby I sang to both my children and a song that I call on when I need to remember that in the cold, barren despair of winter, a seed waits to become a glorious flower. Those sing-alongs from twenty five years ago are still part of my heart.
We don't think much about hearts anymore when it comes to school. We hear data, rigor, accountability, evaluation, benchmarks, modules, progress monitoring. But I don't remember any test like I remember Nature's Classroom. No module inspired the lullabies I sang to my children. So maybe, just maybe...no- certainly, they have it ALL wrong. Education is all about heart.