Are student field trips a thing of the past? With skyrocketing bus costs and the expectation that educators cram as much standards-related content into the school day as possible, many schools are viewing field trips as an unattainable luxury.
Londonderry Middle School in New Hampshire has bucked this trend and is now in its 13thyear of planning a four-day trip to Washington, D.C. for its eighth-graders. “Nothing replaces the social and educational perspectives gained through firsthand experiences,” said Laura Lambert, Londonderry’s trip coordinator.
“Students are more apt to ask questions about places they are learning about if they’re actually there,” she said. “They’re also more likely to take that knowledge with them.”
The school uses creative fundraising ideas such as restaurant giveback nights, a BJ’s Wholesale Club membership drive, and a faculty basketball game. Students do pay a fee for the trip, but scholarships are available.
Ryan Barry, an eighth-grade social studies teacher and David Palange, an eighth-grade American Studies teacher, look forward to taking the trip with students.
“Just that one kid who says ‘Wow’ makes it all worth it,” said Barry.
“Students are looking in awe at everything around them,” Palange added. “An online lesson wouldn’t do it justice. We don’t have the Constitution here to look at.”
Lambert agreed. “It’s unforgettable to hear students imagining all of the historical moments that happened on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, or in the White House or halls of Congress.”
Londonderry staff are well aware that in the current climate, educators must work hard to connect field trips to in-class lessons.
To get the best educational “bang for the buck,” Londonderry enriches the field trip experience with an accompanying lesson plan. Lambert shared some of these activities, which include (1) a pre- and post-trip quiz to assess knowledge gained, (2) a writing assignment comparing “what makes a hero now” versus at the time of our country’s founding, (3) student daily journals of their trip experiences, and (4) a scavenger hunt with clues/facts about each monument.
Barry, Palange and Lambert agreed, however, that the trip provides benefits that go beyond the academic.
“The trip promotes life skills and builds student connectedness,” Barry said. “The experience builds awareness and illustrates the importance of being respectful to others.”
“Students have yet to learn life skills that adults take for granted, such as letting others out of an elevator first, giving up a seat for an elderly person, managing spending money or behaving appropriately at a hotel,” Lambert explained.
She added that the D.C. trip helps students expand their horizons and understand that they can do anything to which they aspire, whether that means attending college, pursuing a unique career, or serving their country through politics or the military.
Staff offered final words of advice to schools planning major student field trips: Start planning early, and use a tour operator that specializes in educational travel—Londonderry uses Brightspark, which serves schools nationally.
Palange added with a laugh, “Maintain a good sense of humor. Things don’t always go as planned.”