Outside, Over There

Ana Fox Chaney
This week was trip week in the middle school. While it was eerily quiet in the building, there was a constant stream of photos posting to each grade’s Instagram account, attesting to the rich experiences and full days being had in far-flung places. Scrolling through the photos, you can see fifth and sixth graders in the middle of an autumn hike by the Ashokan reservoir, gathering around a cider press, or climbing into a canoe. You can see eighth graders interacting with the cast of a show at the Kennedy Center, sketching at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, and gathering at Arlington National Cemetery. You can see seventh graders aboard the Susan Constant, trying on Powhatan clothes or interviewing a colonial surgeon.
Field trips are central to the LREI experience. Those of you who have been with us for many years already know this well. Children begin taking trips early on - first to other parts of our own school building, then the block, the neighborhood, other neighborhoods, and eventually overnight to the farm. Elisabeth Irwin believed strongly in the value of taking students out into the world, as part and parcel of teaching about social injustices (visiting a coal mine) and as a way to acknowledge children as whole people, not just vessels to be filled with “schooling”. She also spoke and wrote, as John Dewey did, about the mandate for school to be an authentic and whole experience of life rather than something that precedes it.
At the same time, our trips are often the moment we can see our everyday emphasis on inquiry, grappling, discussion, connection and critique bear fruit. Our bar for students in school is high. We expect them to engage authentically with ideas, to listen carefully and critically, to wonder, test and deconstruct rather than just take things at face value. I suspect we take for granted the product of these efforts. To us in school, the constant questioning, the debate, the enthusiasm is almost ordinary. Being out in the world is a nice reminder that it isn't. Adults in other environments (counselors, tour guides, docents, activists, authors) constanty remark that students from LREI are remarkably mature, interested, curious.
I encourage you to leverage the photos from these trips as conversation starters at home. I’m proud of all of our middle schoolers and grateful to our unparalleled chaperones for their work this week. It will be nice to have everyone here on Monday, breathing the full force of adolescent energy back into the building. I wish you all a restful weekend.