A tradition that Chandler Woods Charter Academy has enjoyed for nearly a decade looks a bit different this year during the statewide coronavirus closure. Every spring, eighth-grade students from the school look forward to taking a trip to the country’s capitol after participating in research presentations about key landmarks in the area.
This year, teachers got together and came up with the idea to allow the students to participate in the beloved trip, virtually. They worked together to create this experience, sharing that a major piece of the trip is the sense of community that students build. They aimed to create a way for students to not only visit the monuments, but to also enjoy the social aspects of the trip.
“The purpose of the trip is to create an experience that is as close to the real thing as possible,” said Kristin Downs, eighth-grade language arts teacher at Chandler Woods. “This trip isn't just about monuments and museums, it's about relationships, community, and experiential learning.”
The trip kicked off with a virtual bus ride, featuring live trivia, music, and even a magic show put on by Principal Joe Hammond. In normal years, the bus rides are a major portion of the trip, which normally lasts several days. To create a similar experience online, students are logging several hours a day over the course of three days to relax and bond with their classmates. Students are enjoying special entertainment such as viewing movies together, chatting, and eating pizza. “We had 45 people on the bus the first night!” exclaimed Downs.
Traditionally students would spend the weeks leading up to the trip researching various landmarks and memorials and presenting their findings to their class before visiting those places in person. This year, these components are being combined. Students are logging into Google Classroom to share their presentations, featuring facts and information about each place, and are viewing videos exploring the landmarks. Teachers then provide feedback after each presentation and share memories from previous years’ trips.
During the virtual visits, scholars are visiting famous places throughout Washington. Key sites include the Pentagon, the Washington Monument, the Library of Congress, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington Cemetery, Lincoln Memorial, and the White House, to name a few.
“I'm so proud of Chandler Woods and especially our middle school for making learning so much fun through all of this pandemic,” said Downs. “My heart was breaking for the eighth graders because there's nothing we could do to make up for this trip they've lost. That got me thinking about what it would be like to simulate as much of the trip as possible, and that's where the planning began!”
This trip is only one piece of the larger picture of remote learning taking place at the school. Downs shared that her students remain eager to learn, which has not gone away in this new online environment. In many cases, students look forward to the more intimate class sizes online and interacting with their teachers in a different way.
“Our school has been amazing in this transition. I feel that the positivity of the staff has made it possible for kids to jump on board and learn as much as they want,” said Downs. “I have a huge turnout with online classes. I teach four to five classes a day online and can keep class sizes small, brief, and meaningful. It has been awesome, and I don't feel we have missed anything!”