This past spring, a junior high school from Texas traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia and Washington D.C. on a class trip that was organized around the theme of American history. This was the first time that 8th grade teacher Bobbi Goodson led a school group on a trip. She had many interesting observations about the trip and the process of bringing nearly 50 people across the U.S. for a learning experience they will never forget.
Q. What made you decide to sponsor a class trip to Williamsburg and Washington D.C.?
A. In previous years, other teachers had taken this on. I always heard great stories when students came back. The teacher who had done this previously was unable to organize a trip this year because she had a new baby at home. I decided it was time for me to lead a trip.
Q. What course do you teach at Pleasanton Junior High School? How was the trip related to your curriculum?
A. I teach 8th grade special education. My students need assistance with reading comprehension. The object of my course work is to improve reading skills and get kids focused on the study of math, science and history. In eighth grade history courses, students learn about Colonial American history. They study Jamestown and the inception of the colonies, as well as the life of George Washington and the Revolutionary War, among other things. So, a trip to Washington D.C. with an additional day or two in Williamsburg was the perfect complement to course work.
Q. What sites did you visit in Williamsburg, VA?
A. We visited Jamestown Settlement, where living history actors were dressed in costumes. The students saw replicas of the three ships colonists landed on and they saw what a settlement encampment might look like. We also took the lantern tour in the evening in Williamsburg, and a daytime tour of Colonial Williamsburg.
Q. How did the students (and you) respond to the idea of learning from living history?
A. The living history actors and actresses are dressed in period costumes. This type of learning is very hands-on. I found it to be kid friendly and interactive. There was certainly an awe factor and students responded well. Compared to a museum setting, listening to a story about history by a dressed interpreter was far more appealing and engaging for this age group.
Q. What sites did you visit in Washington D.C.? And which were most memorable for students?
A. We visited the Washington Cathedral, the Holocaust Museum, Arlington National Cemetery, the Supreme Court, Mount Vernon, and we even had a photograph in front of the White House. The number of dead buried at Arlington National Cemetery astounded students. There were also plenty of comments about the Holocaust Museum. I don’t think students had any idea how many died there, until they saw a room filled with shoes, and numerous videos that described the events. They also found the trip to Mount Vernon and Jamestown Settlement memorable because of the exciting way history was presented at each site. Also, their history course had prepared them pretty well for Jamestown and Mount Vernon.
Q. How were your tour guides and bus drivers? Were they personable and responsive to your needs?
A. Ann Greenwald was our Washington D.C. tour guide and she was fabulous. She had a deep knowledge of the area and helped to adapt our itinerary to meet our needs. When time was running out she helped us to hit the hot spots in Washington D.C. She helped students by pointing out things they might have missed along the way. She had an excellent rapport with the children. Everyone in the group loved our bus driver. It felt like we would not have had the same experience if we did not have this tour guide and bus driver. We were on the go from morning until night and I was surprised we could all keep up – but we did!
Q. What type of response did parents have after the class trip was completed?
A. I ran into some parents afterwards while shopping around town. Many said they never could have done a family trip to Washington D.C. for their child. They were thankful their children were able to experience this. Some of the parents who were chaperones appreciated the time they had to spend with their child before they became high school students.
Goodson also mentioned that the five day, four night trip offered a great deal, but kids were missing their parents by the end of the trip. “Of course you always lose at least one cell phone to a swimming pool,” said Goodson. She was most appreciative of the security provided at the hotel at night, which made her sleep sounder, too. “If I ever lead a trip again,” commented Goodson, “I will make sure security is included.”
For junior high school students from Texas, a trip to the East Coast helped to enrich their study of American history and give them a new perspective about the founding of our country. It was also a welcome change of pace and scenery they will remember for years to come.