Why Go Out?
The middle school is out this week. Everyone. While it is eerily quiet in the building, there is a constant stream of photos posting to the middle school trips twitter page attesting to the rich experiences and full days of the students in each grade. Scrolling through the photos, you can see fifth and sixth graders in the middle of an autumn hike by the Ashokan reservoir, gathering around a cider press, or climbing into a canoe. A few photos later, you can see eighth graders interacting with the cast of a show at the Kennedy Center or gathering at Arlington National Cemetery. These are all interspersed with images of the seventh graders hoisting a barrel aboard the ship The Discovery, interviewing a colonial surgeon, and touring Shirley Plantation. This is the first time in many years that all the middle school trips have happened concurrently. It makes the feeling of our students being out in the world so palpable. They are out there – having experiences, touching and seeing new things, asking questions, wondering, forming new connections with people they meet and deeper connections with each other.
Field trips are a central dimension of the LREI experience. Those of you who have been with us for many years already know this well. Children begin taking trips early on – first to other parts of our own school building, then the block, the neighborhood, other neighborhoods, and eventually overnight to the farm. Elisabeth Irwin believed strongly in the value of taking students out into the world, both as part and parcel of teaching about social injustices (visiting a coal mine) and as a way to acknowledge children as whole people, not just vessels to be filled with “schooling”. She also spoke and wrote, as John Dewey did, about the mandate for school to be an authentic and whole experience of life rather than something that that precedes it.
Our orientation towards authentic experiences is present throughout the year inside the walls of our Sixth Avenue building as much as outside them. It isn’t unusual, therefore, for us to hear positive feedback from other adults when we do leave the building. Just this week, one of the tour guides at the Jamestown Fort said of our seventh graders, “These kids really know how to think for themselves. They have the enthusiasm of young children and ask high school level questions.” While going out into the world is one way they have developed these habits, they aren’t ones that spontaneously appear on trips. Our curriculum – the discussions, the projects, the experiments, the challenges – revolves around creating exactly this quality in each of our students. Our overnight trips bring into full technicolor the kind of deep engagement, high expectations and high regard we have for our middle schoolers all the time.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to take some time to browse the middle school trip twitter page and enjoy seeing the variety of experiences being documented there. Of course, if you’d like to see photos from just one trip, you can use the hashtags #lreiash, #lreiwb and #lreidc to filter them.