One of the things that I feel my school does really well is student travel. It’s pretty much engrained in the curriculum.
For example, at the beginning of every year the 6, 7, and 8th graders go on a two day trip. The point as far as I can tell is to foster a community feeling about the teachers and students and to give them experiences outside of the classroom. They will take a longer trip at the end of the year as well, along with the 9, 10, 11, and 12th graders. This is in addition to the day trips that various teachers take them on, and trips they go on for sports.
I just got back from a four day trip with the 12th graders to Berlin. The purpose was for them to give their final class presentations and add a sense of weight to them by having the presentations done outside of school. Of course we got to tour the city, as well, which was great for the international kids (and me) who had never been to the country’s capital before.
There are two separate ideas here about student travel that I like. The first is using student travel to build experience and foster a community atmosphere. I loved being able to get to know my 8th graders outside of school. I think it reflects this idea that school is about learning both in- and outside of the classroom (though this theme could certainly be carried through the school year a bit better). It also reminds us of the importance of getting out, experiencing new things, and challenging our comfort zones (we went on a ropes course at the beginning of the year!).
The second idea is using student travel to add weight to assignments. Instead of presenting papers or debates in the school gym for the umpteenth time, how cool is it to get out of town and make your presentation in the nation’s capital? This purpose may be a bit of a stretch, but I think it’s worth exploring the way that travel can aid in the motivation that students have for learning.
Of course I say all this with the disclaimer that I work at a private school in Europe. Students pay a lot of money to go here, and that money funds the trips. I saw a similar phenomenon when I worked for a student travel company. The kids who got to go on our big, cross-country, educational trips were the ones with teachers who could organize the kids and who had enough money from their parents to go. It’s also somewhat easier to cross a border in Europe than it is in say mid-Western America.
But I don’t think these students are the only ones who should have that opportunity. I’m thinking now about The Freedom Writers Diary. No matter what you think of the book (and I have a lot of mixed feelings about it), Erin Gruwell described the amazing effect travel had on her students by getting them out of their school and their neighborhoods and showing them another part of their world. She organized smaller “trips”, like dinners at nearby hotels, and longer trips to Washington, D.C. and NYC. These experiences helped to challenge their assumptions about their world and their school, which helped to broaden their horizons. I still remember my school trips to an old homestead/museum where we made butter ourselves, and to a French restaurant at which I got to practice my French and immerse myself in cuisine. These little trips helped to reinforce my learning, while the big ones to D.C., NYC, and even Paris showed me new ways of life that challenged my preconceived notions about people and nations.
I realize that in the grand scheme of education, student travel falls somewhere below the arts and languages on the priority scale. But if the benefits can be so great, then shouldn’t we make student travel a priority rather than a luxury in education?