by Howard Clemens
Parker Lefton is a retired history teacher for Maclay Middle School in Pacoina California, just outside of Los Angeles. He continues to work as an educator in his role as the volunteer coordinator of the Determined to Dream Foundation. Garret Anderson, a recently retired Major League Baseball player who spent most of his career with the Los Angeles Angels, funds the Determined to Dream Foundation. Anderson and his wife, Teresa, were once students at Maclay, and they have been actively funding and planning special projects at the school since 2003.
Garret Anderson’s Foundation Funds Reading Initiatives and Educational Trips
The Determined to Dream Foundation is the funding source for Maclay Middle School’s reading initiative and educational trips. Each year a group of students takes an educational tour on the East Coast to Boston, New York City or Philadelphia. Lefton also takes an annual trip with a group of students to historical and geographic points of interest in California. “I feel it’s important to expose kids at this school to the outside world. Many of the kids who go to Maclay have not had the opportunity to get outside of L.A.,” commented Lefton.
Hunting for an Educational Travel Company that Offers Flexibility
When he first began hunting for an educational travel company, Lefton said he was disappointed to find that many of the companies he interviewed had definite itineraries that were not changeable. “I didn’t necessarily like the tours other companies presented,” noted Lefton, “so I finally said yes to the company that was open to arranging the tour any way I wanted.” Educational Travel Consultants was willing to customize the tour to match his curriculum. Consultants work with teachers to create educational tours that parallel teaching objectives. Pre-packaged tours of popular destinations are also available to school groups.
A Student Tour of California is Created
Lefton helped to create a six-day tour of California. The journey begins at Maclay Middle School near Los Angeles, continues up through the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe, makes a stop in the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento, and proceeds down the California coast through Monterey and Santa Cruz, then back to Los Angeles.
Students Travel to Sierra Nevada Mountains
Lefton wanted to begin the tour with an overview of the geography of the state. The school trip starts with a visit to Mammoth Mountain, the site of the ancient volcano that erupted some 57,000 years ago. Students then proceed to nearby Lake Tahoe, another geographic wonder — a large and deep mountain lake that sits at approximately 6,225 feet in elevation and is located on the border of Nevada and California. While touring the area, students also visit Coloma Valley, the place where gold was first discovered. This discovery triggered the 1849 California Gold Rush.
Touring Sacramento and San Francisco Bay
After spending a day in the Sierra Nevada Mountains the school group heads west to Sacramento to visit the California State Railroad Museum, where they learn about the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Here, the first of two educational exercises on the trip begins with an information hunt. Students work in pairs to find specific information in the Museum. The winners receive Target gift cards. While visiting Sacramento, students also tour the California State Capitol building, where they gain insight and perspective into state government.
Next on the itinerary is the San Francisco Bay area, where students visit Alcatraz Island Prison by boat, walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, tour Fort Point (an old Civil War era site), see the Maritime National Historic Park and take a walking tour of Chinatown. In the evening the student group dines at a restaurant on Fishermen’s Wharf.
Santa Cruz & Monterey
The next day the school group moves south from the San Francisco area and visits Santa Cruz, where they see one of California’s redwood forests, and make a stop in Monterey, the first capital of California. Here, students consider the Mexican period in California history, visit the Monterey Aquarium, and see the Big Sur coastline from the vantage point of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
A Student Tour of an 18th Century Mission
On the way back to Los Angeles, the bus stops at Morro Bay, where a tour of the Museum of Natural History offers a visual and educational overview of the coastal area. At their final stop, they tour La Purisima Mission, a wonderfully preserved example of a mission as it would have been in 1800. Part two of the information hunt occurs at La Purisima, where students are tasked with finding specific details about mission history while on tour.
Competing for a Place on the California Tour
Funding limitations do not permit all students at Maclay Middle School to attend this grant-funded trip. So, Lefton and the Andersons have created an academic competition with winners awarded a place on the California tour. The contest helps them to strive for better grades and also involves the element of luck. Students are given tickets for a drawing for each acceptable grade in the A,B, and C range. “The more good grades they receive the first semester of school, the more entry tickets they have to enter the drawing,” says Lefton. Fourteen names are drawn from all of the entries, and these lucky students tour their home state.
This unique trip was created because a history teacher wanted to develop an educational tour that gave students an opportunity to engage in some active learning about their home state. The California tour is ambitious in all of the sites it encompasses. Students studying California history, geography, and social studies will benefit from a trip designed like this, or even one that is quite similar. The tour could be scaled down to three or four days instead of five or six and still offer many learning opportunities.