Head of School Blog

Guest Blog: Experiential Learning – When a Field Trip is More than Just a Day Out of School

Jessica Zolnowski
One of my favorite experiences is welcoming a new teacher into our school and watching them marvel at the uniqueness and magic of our educational programs. Jessica Zolnowski joined us this year after teaching in a public middle school for a number of years. When we shared the news that she would be chaperoning a trip to the Horse Institute for three days, she registered a delightful balance of apprehension and intrigue – a clear sign that she is someone who would embrace our ambitious mission. In this week’s blog post, Ms. Zolnowski reflects on her trip to the Horse Institute trip with Fifth Graders in the fall, and the beginning of a year-long study of the human-animal bond, which culminates this week in our annual Blessing of the Animals.

As a new teacher to All Saints, coming from public schools, overnight trips were unheard of, as were multiple day trips every trimester! I’ll never forget my shock and amazement when someone said, “Jessica, you will be going on the Horse Institute Trip with the Fifth Grade from Wednesday to Friday. You’ll be staying with the girls in the barn.”

“Barn? Two nights? Fifth Grade?” I thought apprehensively. Much to my delight, the trip was an absolutely wonderful experience; both for me and my students. The academic approach to overnight trips and/or multiple class trips each year is that they are an authentic way of teaching our students about the topic, world, country, state, or city they are learning about in the classroom. Perhaps more importantly, these trips allow us to form positive relationships and bonds with one another, student and adult, creating a more effective classroom environment.

On the two hour bus ride to the Horse Institute, we sang songs, told stories, and chit-chatted a great deal, but we were speechless when the “country” opened up vastly before us. Getting set up with the girls in the barn was an opportunity to delegate roles to each girl, giving them a feeling of independence and togetherness. When we participated in the activities on the trip together as a class, such as horse back riding, grooming horses, and visiting farms, we all grew even closer. We learned so many different things, but in an exciting and enjoyable way. Yes, the students had to fill out a packet of work, but they were collaborating together to ensure the correct answers were had by all. And it wasn’t mundane school work; they were learning as a group and found it exceedingly interesting.

After taking pictures of all the children on horses, I had my first scare of the school year. One of the girls broke out in hives and we learned she was allergic to horses. Although this seems like a setback, it was a strong bonding moment with this particular student. Don’t worry…she was ok! The upside is that it gave me a chance to find my “nurturing” side, and gave students a chance to care for one another, and be there when a peer was going through a difficult time.

Furthermore, the first night was by far a truly original experience for all of us. It was the first time many of the students were away from home, and my first time having a “sleepover” with students. That was when true bonding was done and friendships were created. The students read to each other, painted one another’s nails, and giggled until bed time. Waking up early in the morning wasn’t dreadful, because we were all together, and we looked forward to the new experiences and lessons that awaited us.

Throughout all the activities, lessons, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, car rides, and walks, the Fifth Grade class created tight bonds not only with each other, but with their teachers. This was such an important part of the trip, because it set the mood for the school year, and gave everyone a sense of comfort. The academic approach of an overnight trip is authentic and original, because the students are learning in a whole new way. I feel it is an extremely memorable way to teach students due to the genuine lessons they learn, which are all relatable to life, whether academically or socially.

Questions? Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com.