Saturday, April 28, 2007

Of Algae, S'Mores, Sunburns and Screaming 7th Graders - a Wrap up

So what did I learn from our field trip?

Quite a lot actually.

I learned that this generation of kids is not as familiar with the great outdoors as we are. I grew up in a city but I still had chances through scouting and visits to grandma's farm, to experience things like campfires and shooting stars and fishing. Many kids these days don't even get to go outside and play because there's no safe place to do so. I find this to be horribly sad.

I learned that many things we take for granted are new and different for these kids. It never occurred to me that there were kids who never had a s'more, who never sat by a campfire, who never rode a boat, or walked in the woods, or looked at a wildflower, or just sat looking at the sky at night.

I learned that I made the right decision to leave the corporate world and go into teaching because I never once got the type of satisfaction in business that I got from the look on a kid's face when he caught a crawdad in a net.

Moments that stuck in my mind:

Having a kid tell me that she's never had a s'more before and thanking us for giving her the chance to have one. (She loved it by the way).

Seventh grade girls like to play beauty shop just like we did. When I showed up in the dorm with my hair wet from having just washed it, they all wanted to comb it out and mess with it. I let them.

I had one girl tell me she couldn't remember the last time she actually ate three meals in one day. She was astonished at the amount of food she was given to eat. How sad that there are so many kids out there who consider three squares a day a rarity.

Looking out at the kids when I was telling ghost stories and watching the looks on their faces. I had them in the palm of my hand. Now if I could only do that every day in the classroom.

The look on the kid's faces when they put on their life vests and got on the boat nearly brought a tear to my eyes...their smiles were HUGE.

Watching the kids play with algae and realize that nature is fun, science is cool, and there's nothing so green as algae!

Watching one of my homeroom kids take off on the orienteering course like a gazelle let loose at the zoo. That was, by far, his favorite activity. I could give him a compass tomorrow and tell him to go find something and he'd be out the door.

So did it change the kids we took?

Yup. It did.

They seem a little more mature, a little more calm. They seemed to have found an inner strength in some respects. They take a little more pride in what they're doing.

I handed out progress reports this week and one of my homeroom kids that went on the trip needs to pull his grade up. I handed him his progress report and before I could say anything he said, "I can do a lot better than that." I agreed. "I know you can," I said. "Yeah, I know I can too," he said, and he smiled at me. He's never been that self-assured before.

Not one of them bragged about being able to go on the trip. They seemed to realize that what they received was something special but not something to use to lord it over their classmates who didn't go.

The most interesting thing is how they're relating to us, their teachers.

They don't swing by us and enter the room and then go chat with their friends. They're stopping. They're talking with us, asking us what's going on, how's the day going, what's new? They smile a lot more. I'll be doing a lesson and look up and find one of the kids from the trip looking at me, we'll lock eyes, and they'll smile. They won't look away. When class is over, kids who never once said a word are now saying "goodbye, see you tomorrow" before they leave. They're telling us about their day, about what they did at home, about a problem they're having with another kid or a class or just life in general.

One of the most amazing changes is in how some of the kids view Mr. Social Studies. He's not the warm, cuddly type of teacher - 26 years in law enforcement sort of erased any cuddliness he may have had at one time. He's a disciplinarian with high expectations and he's the teacher the kids love to hate. Later, after they've moved on to 8th grade and beyond they will sometimes come back and thank him for working them so hard and making them think, but during seventh grade most of the kids just can't stand him.

Except now the kids on the trip are bragging about how awesome he is. In my Third Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself, one of the Losers made the mistake of making some sort of crack about Mr. Social Studies, which riled up some of the boys who were on our trip. They proceeded to inform everyone that Mr. Social Studies is truly awesome, that his class is cool, and if you would only pay attention you'd figure out how cool he is.


They're connecting.

The Principal has announced that her focus next year, and therefore the focus of our school, is going to be on building relationships. We did that this past weekend.

And it's created a little bit of magic for 32 kids and six grown ups.

And I'm glad we did it. So very, very glad.


Liz Ditz said...

It's Liz from I Speak of Dreams. I'm involved with a small, private, all-girls, all-middle school in California, in which 20% of the girls are low-income--on full or part scholarship.

The very first activity in the school year is that the entering class (6th grade) goes off for a three-day, two night camping trip with their teachers and key administrators, and the 7th grade is off-campus for two days for "boot camp" for the major project (enterpreneurial class). So the 8th graders are on campus all by themselves!

Some parents complain about the "non-academic" nature of the camping trip, but it is an incredibly valuable part of the school year, allowing girls who are strangers to become acquainted, getting the science year off to a bang, and getting the students and faculty/staff acquainted.

Yes, you were brave to go off with the 7th graders. I wish all schools had the capacity for off-site environmental education.

Darren said...

Everything you said, and then some!

I once worked at a low-income junior high. One of our vice principals, I don't remember on what academic grounds, took a busload of students to Fort Ross and the Pacific Coast. He described the wide eyes on so many kids, how he thought the bus would roll over, as everyone rushed to one side of the bus for their first-ever view of an ocean.

Here in Sacramento, we're two hours from the coast.

Yes, many kids do without so many things. Doesn't it feel good to give them some of those experiences?

HappyChyck said...

I'm all verklempt now. It's amazing how one weekend can change a child permanently--and in a good way, which is probably something we can't say too often about what can permanently be done to a child.

I'm sorry to say that I'm probably raising my kids to not know about s'mores, stars at night, walking in the woods, etc. We are just not into the outdoors much, but thanks for reminding me that those were the things I enjoyed with my family when I was young. And it doesn't take much--we didn't go camping, but we "went to the mountains" to drive and picnic any chance we got. We rode our bicycles along country road at dusk. We noticed the world around us.

You don't have to take students on a weekend trip to establish relationships. When I directed drama, I always formed the closest bonds with those students--even their parents admitted I probably had more influence over their teens than they did. We can form relationships in our own classrooms, but I think relationships form much faster in smaller groups and outside the regular academic day when we can all be ourselves.

teachergirl said...

We just got back from our 5th grade day in the woods; our story is your story, just condensed. We went to the Girl Scout Camp and just stayed the day, but the bonds that formed and the self-confidence those kids got is amazing. They did scary things they never imagined themselves doing. We are talking about making it an overnight trip next year.

Mrs. T said...

I've been saying for years that what our toughest inner city middle school needs is a good outdoor-ed. program. I get poo-pooed a lot.
What an amazing series of posts, Mrs. Bluebird- you rock.