It goes without saying that soon-to-be-graduates all over the country are experiencing great disappointment over the cancellation of year-end capstone events due to the current world pandemic. For our own sixth-graders, the disappointment ran deep as they realized their highly anticipated Washington, DC trip would not happen. For schools such as St. Thomas’s who are partially defined by an extensive field trip and experiential learning program, the closing of school came not only with the cancellation of classroom academics, but the cancellation of many events and field trips that are usually a large part of the overall educational experience.
Shortly after the announcement of school closing and the cancellation of the DC trip, Head of School Gina Panza wrote in a letter to sixth-graders, “There will, most likely, be more postponements and cancellations to come. And when they do, you get to be disappointed, you get to be upset, and you get to really be bummed-out about it.Then at some point, the wind and the waves will calm, and we will refocus as we look for ways to do what we can to make up for this together.”
And that is just what sixth grade teacher Chaundra Vasseur and the sixth-grade students are doing. Mrs. Vasseur and specials teachers worked collaboratively with her class and they successfully created an innovative, integrated, and fun Washington, DC experience all their own. While acknowledging their disappointment about not being able to walk the streets of the city physically together, the sixth-graders have showed great leadership by controlling the controllables and creating opportunities which have taken remote learning to the next level.
From Tuesday, April 14 to Friday, April 16 (the original dates of the trip) the sixth grade class participated in a virtual exploration of Washington, DC that they will remember forever. Mrs. Vasseur began the week by assigning “roommates,” pairing students together and providing them several opportunities and activities which allowed them to bond and grow closer together. At night, they participated in social events such as a pizza and pasta party, a live viewing of Guys and Dolls, and a late night Google Meet where they talked and played games.
The educational component of their DC “trip” included daily virtual tours of notable DC museums and exhibits. Additionally, each student was tasked with researching and building a model of a landmark or monument. They then presented about their monument/landmark on a schedule that coincided with the day they would have originally been visiting in person. They got creative throughout the week as well, creating a map of DC with materials found in their houses, and putting together a scrapbook collecting memories and facts about exhibits and experiences that have stood out for them throughout the week.
Lastly, they created the Walk DC Challenge and invited the community to participate. In DC, they would have walked an average of 7-9 miles per day and therefore challenged themselves and community members to walk as many miles per day as they could. A total of almost 400 fitness miles were recorded! Mrs. Vasseur said of her class, “I’m so proud of our sixth-graders for maintaining a positive attitude while embracing the challenge of traveling to DC in such a unique way! This has been such a special experience.”
The sixth-grade Washington, DC trip is just one of many ways we are carrying on. Earlier this month, the fourth grade participated in several educational and virtual experiences to celebrate their Philadelphia trip, the third grade had a Google Meet Q&A with Grace Lin, author and illustrator of The Year of the Dog (a book they are currently reading), and the entire student body came together to participate in the Egg Drop Challenge to honor the Science Festival. To come, teachers and students will work together to figure out creative ways to present their class plays, Field Day will commence, and All School Chapel will remain a weekly occurrence. This is just a smattering of examples of how, despite the challenges of learning amid a crisis, in an entirely new medium, St. Thomas’s continues to provide students with a multi-faceted and immersive educational program.