It's Spring and with the warmer weather comes opportunities to get back out into the world. What will this be like for students after two years where nothing was normal? I’ve been thinking about my own school experience and my fourth-grade teacher Ms. Gelda at P.S. 97 Highlawn School in New York. Like most of us, I had many elementary school teachers, but Ms. Gelda is the one I have the fondest memories of. Why did this fourth-grade teacher have such an impact on me? Of all the teachers I had growing up, what made her special?
Doing some research, I found out she had recently passed away and many former students were posting sympathies and memories. Looking through the posts, I saw one that perfectly summed up what made Ms. Gelda great: “We did all the cool trips in her class.”
She was memorable to me because of what we did outside the classroom. And, with our schools regaining normalcy, I’m hoping that we will see the resumption of another school staple — field trips.
First Time in Connecticut
I was ten years old when Ms. Gelda announced that we were going to the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut. At that time in my life, I didn’t even know where Connecticut was. She also informed us that we weren’t going on a yellow school bus, rather we’d take the two-hour trip by luxury coach (she had me at luxury). The night before, I couldn’t sleep. I had never before ventured from my neighborhood in Brooklyn. For the first time, the excitement of travel-based adventure was upon me.
I can remember the trip like it was yesterday. I never knew a museum could be so much fun. We got to see old ships, visit shops that mimicked 1800s décor, and walk through the seaport, which was set up like an old fishing village. Having the freedom to learn on my own was something new. This place let us explore, have fun and acquire new knowledge at the same time. Throughout fourth grade, Ms. Gelda scheduled field trips almost monthly: Mystic Seaport, the Botanical Gardens, and the State Capitol — just to name a few. These are the happiest memories of my schooling. And, forty years later, these trips are what I recall most clearly and fondly: the amazing new experiences that Ms. Gelda gave me the opportunity to discover.
Fortunately, field trips continued into middle school and high school. The dedicated COSA (Coordinator of Student Activities) Mr. Schinder at my middle school (Mark Twain JHS in Coney Island, Brooklyn) set up a trip to California.
When my parents said yes, it was all I could think about throughout my entire seventh-grade year. If you ever experienced one of Mark Twain’s famous trips as a kid, you were in for a life-altering experience.
There were so many firsts for me on this trip: It was the first time I was away overnight without my family. It was my first plane ride. My first hotel stay without my parents. I saw three cities—San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego—that I had only previously seen on TV. We went to historic sites, like the Hollywood sign and the Walk of Fame. We took a San Francisco Trolly Ride, which I remember thinking couldn’t be real, because I’d only ever seen it on the Rice-a-Roni commercial.
It amazes me to think of the dedication that the teachers displayed on this trip. There I was — having a life-altering experience — while, quietly in the background, teachers were responsible for one hundred 12-14-year-olds. Not only that; they were committed to ensuring we had a great time too.
Going Global: A Teenager in Spain
The climax of my school trips experience was a tour of Spain in my senior year of high school, which solidified my lifelong love of travel. I am grateful for Mr. Fernandez, who opened my eyes to a much bigger world beyond the bounds of Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey. Thinking back, the sheer complexity of bringing 90 seventeen-year-olds to a foreign country astounds me. How would this even work?
Somehow, all 90 of us found the plane, got to the hotel, and were given the opportunity to explore a new country. It was a learning and social experience that shaped who I am today. I can still remember those shish kabob sandwiches and potato croquettes at the local cafe, walking around cities that were thousands of years old, and opening my eyes to a whole new culture of people, places, food, and music. I remember climbing into a cab, noticing we were traveling at an incredible 120 miles an hour, then quickly realizing our speed was being measured in kilometers (and then asking myself, ‘what the heck is a kilometer!?’).
After traveling around the world, I still recall this trip as one of the best of my life.
As we finish out this school year with cautious optimism, I’d like to thank Ms. Gelda, Mr. Schinder, and Mr. Fernandez for all the hard work required to make great school trips possible. Looking back over forty years, these vivid memories are at the forefront of my mind when I think about my overall school experience. It astounds me that teachers around NYC continue to provide these opportunities each and every day. The amount of time and effort involved is enormous.
Paying it Forward (as a teacher)
When I joined the teaching ranks in New York C at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, I was given the opportunity to pay it forward. I still remember the first trip I ran by myself—to the New York Stock Exchange—after having worked with students on the ins and outs of the stock market all year. It was great for kids to see how their studies related to the real world, and for me to watch them connect the dots in real-time. I remember the endless trips, working with Ms. Bauman and Ms. Corey, as we gave kids the opportunity to experience Broadway and countless museums for the first time. Working with Tele’s COSA, Ms. Monaco, to plan all the senior activities — and the many weekends spent away at Pine Grove Dude Ranch for the senior trip — was a highlight. For many participating students, like my younger self before them, this was their first time away without their parents. As a chaperone, it was incredible to watch NYC kids enjoy a range of firsts, from riding a horse to clipping into a pair of skis.
Paying it Forward Again
(in EdTech as a partner to NYC schools)
Flash forward to today, the last two years were something none of us could have imagined. In the first year of the pandemic, all trips were canceled. Last year, almost no trips were planned, there was still so much uncertainty. Many students studied remotely for a large part of the year, rarely venturing beyond the four walls of their house — let alone the city, state or country. It breaks my heart to think of all the missed opportunities for school trips. Yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, as we return to some normalcy there will be a renewed sense of the importance of school trips. I am now fortunate to support schools in making this process easier through my role with Operoo powered by SchoolStatus. I look forward to working with teachers to support their mission to rediscover field trips as a wonderful learning experience for all.
Life Lessons in Travel
Thank you Ms. Gelda, and all the teachers for making school trips a priority. Here’s hoping school trips are of the utmost importance as things return to normal, and teachers continue to work hard to support these valuable life lessons.