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Reimagining Lower School Trips in the Pandemic Era

7/27/2021

Jane Clarke, Director of Lower School

Venturing out into the world has always been a foundation of City and Country School’s Social Studies curriculum—broadening children’s experience of how the world is connected and how they fit into that environment. Our teachers provoke children to ask questions and seek answers, and taking Trips outside the classroom allows children to see and hear new things—and gain new understandings about what they experience together. And so, as students began returning to C&C in September, our teachers asked: How can we take Trips while staying at school?

Redefining “Outside”
The health and safety protocols in place early this year meant there would be a number of changes from our usual ways of doing things, especially when it came to Trips. For one, Groups could no longer use public transportation to visit locations around the city; even locations within walking distance were initially off limits as a precaution, unless they were outside and very nearby. And yet, despite these restrictions, our creative teachers crafted experiences that would allow students to venture beyond the classroom and explore more of the world around them. 

In some ways, the measures in place made certain areas of the school different enough to merit exploration even by our returning students. Social distancing requirements meant that movement in the hallways was limited and highly choreographed—with the help of newly hired hall monitors. The organic flow of passageway and stairwell interactions with others became virtually non-existent, and therefore novel. Instead, our students had new experiences, like communicating via walkie-talkie with our hall monitors and learning how this new job is supporting our community in important ways. 

While changes always bring opportunities for learning, these alterations also brought challenges. How would teachers be able to maintain this important tool for helping young children find answers, spark new ideas, and make connections in a virtual setting? How could they help even our youngest students better understand other places and people in the school? The School Store, the Library, and the Shop were not open to them; the IXs who help them at the Store, the Librarians who help them find good books, and the teacher who introduces them to the power of different tools were similarly out of view.  

I’m proud to say that through the tireless commitment and creativity of our teachers—and in collaboration with parents and caregivers—we achieved what we always seek: to create authentic, meaningful experiences that relate abstract knowledge to what is important and tangible in our lives. In the absence of being able to take physical research Trips, teachers have guided children to have those important experiences in other ways. Through these opportunities to dive deeper, Trips have fed each child’s excitement in beginning to understand, in new ways, what makes the world work. Our children have continued to build confidence in who they are and how they can connect with important understandings and imaginings. The world they are now a part of has changed, but the fundamentals of learning through our experiences together have not wavered.  

I reached out to teachers of various Lower School age groups to see what stands out for them when they consider what they have done to achieve this goal. Their revelations are inspiring, and I have full confidence that all of our extraordinary teachers will continue to provide meaningful, thought-provoking, connection-building experiences for our students, no matter where their Trips may take them. 

Vivian Yang, IVs Remote Learning Coordinating Teacher
For our fully remote IVs this year, Vivian invited her small group to  venture outside the confines of the screen and into the world of jobs and responsibilities that are important to the smooth running of the Group’s day together.

“In addition to materials and space, many of the in-person jobs for  the IVs involve maintaining their classroom environment and traveling in and out of the classroom. Since the remote IVs do not share physical space or travel, we revamped the jobs program to include: ‘attendance taker,’  ‘schedule card reader,’  ‘calendar announcer’ (tells the days of the week), ‘visitor coordinator’ (introduces IVs to visitors), ‘hello song singer,’  ‘goodbye song singer,’ etc. The jobs program not only helps teachers run the remote group, but also invites the IVs to be active participants on these Zoom calls. Every morning, IVs get to choose their jobs, and they get very excited to make a choice that they want.”


Robin Sage, IIIsR Teacher 
“In these unusual times, our ability to explore the School and interact with numerous children and grown-ups has changed, yet we remain committed to finding opportunities to explore our place as part of a larger community. For example, the XIIIs still visit the IIIs (via Zoom) to conduct interviews for the Newspaper. We still write letters to members of the Buildings and Grounds crew to thank them for helping us fix a shelf on the Roof. We communicate with our delightful hall monitors over our walkie-talkies—and the IIIs are replicating this experience in their work with our indoor blocks.

Our day contains more transitions between indoor and outdoor spaces than in a typical year, so the IIIs actually spend more time traveling through the halls than they would normally; this is a learning experience for them. They stop to look at the artwork (a leaf collage outside the IVs Room!) or read the Xs’ signage (‘Walk, don’t run!’) on the stairs. We have singalongs outside on the Roof with the other IIIs Groups and participate in a variety of movement activities. We cherish our morning arrival time with Security Guard Eddy Vargas, Receptionist Libby Clark, the Nurses, and whomever else is in the lobby that day. The grown-ups make everyone feel welcome and excited to start another day of our in-person program. And on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have the distinct privilege of being able to go to the Library with one or two children to borrow books. For the IIIs, the School is still a place to wander and wonder, and we look forward to our journeys.”

Tara di Gerlando, VIsT Teacher
Trip taking” became a different experience for the VIsT in the spring of 2020, during C&C’s time in remote instruction. Tara collaborated (virtually, this time) with NYC poet and teacher mentor Richard Lewis, who took the VIs on a virtual Trip down the river: 

“The VIs had worked with Richard before, in the fall of 2019, when we were contemplating the universe. This time, we transitioned from sky to river by building simple boats, creating them for ourselves and a travel companion who would take a journey down the Hudson River with us. VIs engaged in this visual and imaginary experience by taking with them all that they had learned about the sights, sounds, stories, and surroundings of the Hudson River. With their experiences and Richard’s guidance, the students could truly begin to imagine what a trip on the Hudson River might feel like and what they might discover. In this collaboration, the VIs easily drew on the knowledge about the Hudson River that they had gained as a Group, while also building in the qualities of play. The VIs were captivated by one another as they had the time and space to share their vessels and their journeys, and to imagine each others’ experiences.”

Coua Vang, VIIsC Teacher
As they journey through their final year in the Lower School, our VIIs’ research Trips are essential. The students have become masters in the art of asking good and thoughtful questions—seeking information has become a reflex for them! The VIIs curriculum evolves from that inquiring thirst. VIIsC teacher Coua reflected
on how they managed to retain the essence of this profound learning opportunity for children of this age in
a virtual setting: 

“Despite the limitations, one element that is still accessible and important about Trips is the planning process. Trip planning encourages children to inquire, wonder, organize their Study, and build upon their research skills. Once the childrens’ interests are sparked and a Study is selected, we assist by thinking creatively about different modes of experiences that are available and possible virtually. Virtual Trip experiences rely on children’s prior knowledge and wonderings, which ignite their imaginations. As teachers, we use a variety of tools to achieve multi-sensory VIIs’ Zoom Trip experiences. Two very important tools we use are drama and the imagination. We also use Google Maps, soundscapes and music, photographs and items, videos and studio visits, interviews, special guest visitors, and children’s observations and journaling.” 

Our VIIs created their Permanent City this year using blocks and other materials to form all of the components of a modern urban environment. It is a city like no other in the long history of our School. As city planners, they needed to investigate what precautions must be in place for essential businesses to continue to operate in the event of a pandemic. It has been great hearing the ideas our VIIs generated and which all of us can learn from.

VIRTUAL CENTRAL PARK TRIP

Stepping “outside” of Virtual C&C, VIIs donned coats and masks and “traveled” to Central Park online, via an imaginary 1 train. Upon arrival, the VIIs explored the park, starting at the Zoo and ending with a visit from a special guest—a member of the Mounted Auxiliary who keeps the park safe…on horseback! Along the way, they used “binoculars” to spot items from a scavenger hunt, heard “Stand by Me” sung by local musicians at Bethesda Terrace, contemplated bridge structures, and (perhaps most importantly) had snacks at the Visitor Center. 

Click here to watch a video of the Central Park Trip.