April 20, 2016 – 8th grade students from St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School travelled across the country to visit historical sites in Boston, Gettysburg, Washington DC, and New York last week. This is the second year that the school has made the 7-day trip that brings classroom lessons to life, providing first hand experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.
The White House, 9-11 Memorial, Capitol, Supreme Court, a Broadway play, battlefields, war memorials, USS Constitution, original founding documents, and forefathers’ houses were just some of the sights the class took in. At each location, students were able to see and enrich their knowledge of places and people they’ve learned about in the classroom. More than that, they gained a deeper understanding of how history affects real life situations and trends.
“The whole trip was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had,” said 8th grade student, Monica H. The places became so much more than words and facts to memorize. Social Studies became more realistic, history had a wow factor that I didn’t get before.”
Classmate, Grace E. wholeheartedly agreed, “I can envision and feel what it must have been like to live in a different time and place now. The projects and reports we completed leading up to the trip became more alive once we stepped into the actual spot. I really want to go back again to see more!”
Congressman Ed Royce treated the group to a personal tour of the Capitol building, providing special access to the House floor. One ambitious student with political aspirations, Karun G., was able to give a speech from the President’s podium. When asked about the experience he said, “I felt like I was shaking hands with all the Presidents who had stood there before me. That is what I want to be when I grow up, so really I was standing in the shadow of giants.”
The group also spent time at Arlington National Cemetery and St. Francis of Assisi Principal, Tom Waszak, was asked to lay a wreath on behalf of the school at President Kennedy's eternal flame.
“The historical weight and emotion I felt placing that wreath at such an iconic spot nearly brought me to tears,” said Waszak. “Visiting the 9-11 Memorial had a similar effect,” he continued. “Our students don’t have a personal reference for that event, but they were affected by the quiet solemnity and importance all the same.”
“Instead of them seeing the picture and the text in a book, we can actually show them a document or a place in person,” said St. Francis Eighth Grade Teacher, Ann Cooper. “Being able to say, ‘I was there,’ makes it more tangible for our students and gives more credibility to lessons we have taught,” she said. “It was also a lot of fun!”
“I really liked going to Plymouth Plantation,” said Monica H. “The people there re-enacted what it was like to live in the early 1700s. We asked them how they felt about England and if they wanted to break away, and they responded with total loyalty. It made me realize that I look at things knowing how history played out, but the people there and then didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Students also benefitted from the experiences of traveling in a group. Being responsible, demonstrating respect to the individuals leading tours, and showing reverence for the historical locations they visited contributed to social growth and maturity.
“Our teachers planned everything meticulously and they prepped a lot before we left, but some of my favorite times were when they gave us time to explore freely, outside of the organized tours,” said Grace E. “I felt like I could experience a place on my own terms, like an adult.”
“They were engaged in all activities, worked together for the good of all, listened to the directions of the supervisors, were respectful at meals and with tour guides, and genuinely seemed grateful for this experience,” said St. Francis of Assisi Vice Principal, Jeannette Lambert. “They walked 49 miles this week and really did not complain, even when we woke them up early for tours! This was a trip of a lifetime for our students and we hope they carry these memories with them wherever their path leads them after SFA!”
“The significant changes in demeanor and behavior of the kids was visible,” said Waszak. “At the end of the trip they were different students then they were when we started. It was a powerful experience to be sure.”
Memories of school educational tours are among the most prominent of the formative years, largely because they are a welcome break in the routine for both students and teachers. While their purpose is essentially to educate, they can also be a fun bonding experience for everyone involved.
“I feel like I have grown infinitely closer with my classmates and teachers because of the memories we made. Our teachers were so incredibly patient and organized. We learned more than I ever thought we would, but more than that we bonded,” explains Monica H. “We laughed at inside jokes during long bus rides, we got goose bumps from moving locations, and we all had our breaths taken away when we learned about amazing people. I will never forget those moments and feelings.”
Mrs. Lambert's daily journal entries are provided below for anyone curious to learn more about the activities and experiences shared on the East Coast Study Trip.