As our group of New York City public school teenagers lined up at the foot of a southern Catskill Forest, the guide for the trip I was chaperoning had a question.
“How many of you have never been on a hike before?’’ he shouted. At least nine hands shot up. One student asked if Central Park counted.
I laced my hiking boots in disbelief, glancing down at the footwear my son’s high school classmates sported. Mostly sneakers or inappropriate fashionable booties.
Very few sported footwear proper for a five-mile hike on muddy partially frozen ground with traces of ice and snow. Many hadn’t even bothered with socks.
Yet off we tromped into the woods, a bit unprepared but happy to be on an overnight field trip in the natural beauty of 5,000 acres surrounding the Frost Valley YMCA—all part of preparing for the Advanced Placement Environmental Science exam. Who says test prep has to be boring?
Later that night, two teachers quizzed the students Jeopardy-style on everything from acid rain and watersheds to national parks—all from questions that would be on an exam made far more relevant by the day’s trek in the woods.
By the end of a day-and-a-half–long trip that included waterfalls, a hayride, climbing walls, two hikes and a huge amount of information, nearly all the students in my group were talking about the need to get out of the city. They felt they’d learned much more than they would have memorizing facts in a classroom seat.
I couldn’t agree more, and it’s one reason I volunteered (much to my son’s mortification) to help chaperone the Frost Valley overnight.
It was the first time I had been asked to be part of a field trip since my son was in elementary school, because there have been so few of them in high school.
Organizing field trips of any kind, especially overnighters, can be a scheduling nightmare for schools. It’s even more complicated at a performing arts high school, where kids may be missing rehearsals and recitals while juggling end of the year tests and reviews.
There are endless regulations, and always a teacher, coach or club leader who might be unhappy about the timing and complain that it interferes with something else.
Yet schools across the U.S. manage to take kids to the nation’s capital, to state and national parks, battlefields—even amusement parks.
That’s why I applaud the educators who organized the Frost Valley trip, and got city kids talking about everything from acid rain to watershed challenges. Many felt the trip was a highlight of their year. Several vowed to buy hiking boots.
Insideschools would like to hear about high schools that are taking students on innovative field trips, particularly overnight. Was there resistance? What has worked? Have any schools refused to take students? Any tips to share?