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GrantEd Funds Simon's 5th Grade Trip

Updated: Nov 24, 2019

By Whitney Bartell

At Simon Elementary School we champion a whole-child learning experience. This means that our students are instructed in core academic subjects and social emotional learning. Social emotional development necessitates exposure to new environments. We strive to show our students what life beyond Mississippi Avenue can look like, and, for over a decade, we have done this with our annual 5th grade trip to New York City. This trip is something our students start talking about as early as second grade! For our students, it marks the culmination of their elementary experience and is something they truly feel they have earned. Not only does this trip serves as an incredible incentive but it offers students and staff a chance to bond. It establishes a nearly unbreakable relational trust when a child knows that their teachers are willing to take them on such an amazing trip.

What We Did

We try to align all our activities in NYC to common cross-curricular themes that we have studied during the school year. Thanks in part to our partnership with the Kennedy Center and the 5th grader’s collaboration with an artist in residence on an incredible holiday show, many of our students show an affinity for performing arts, so what better way to extend their experiences with the Kennedy Center than attending a Broadway play? Our students were absolutely mesmerized by the brilliance of Aladdin on Broadway.

At Sylvia’s Soul Food restaurant in Harlem, we enjoyed a dining experience rich with history and delicious food! During their meal our students are surrounded by exquisite murals of people celebrated for their contributions to the civil rights movement, entertainment, literature, and politics.

We made a stop to the 9/11 Memorial, where we talked candidly about September 11th and answer questions that our students may have. We explored Times Square and all the surrounding shops, like the M&M store, Hershey Factory, and Disney Store. We had many important math conversations as we waited in lines at souvenir shops; reminders about sales tax sent our students into a flurry of mental calculations.

We also visited the Liberty Science Center, which overlooks the Statue of Liberty with breathtaking views of the NYC skyline. Here, our students explored an incredible watershed exhibit and felt confident in relating it to their own background knowledge, as we had spent the year studying watersheds and developing action projects benefiting our local Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The science center had many hands-on activities and demonstrations and our students took full advantage of: they climbed across beams suspended high in the air at the architecture and building exhibit, they donned slick black ponchos in the wind tunnel and hurricane simulation, they crawled hurriedly using only hand sensations and hearing in the blacked-out touch tunnel, and they conducted experiments in the lab on diagnosing disease.

How We Did It

The planning for this trip is extensive. We open it up to the entire 5th grade, and this year we took 24 students and 5 adults (maintaining the 5:1 student-teacher ratio dictated by DCPS Guidelines). This meant meal planning for 29 people, arranging 10 hotel rooms, purchasing 29 Broadway show tickets and passes to the science center, and chartering a bus. The per person cost was approximately $260.

Funds were generated from a combination of teacher and administrator donations, parent payment (that we began collecting 5 months prior), and limited school funds. Funding can be very difficult because we often need to book and pay for many of the activities before parents have paid. This means the 5th grade teachers generally pay for a bulk of the activities out of pocket, with a risk of not being reimbursed, so that we can secure our spots. Parents often have trouble coming up with all the money and require assistance from teacher donations. Typically, Simon will pay for the total cost of the bus, but this year we were short on funds, so staff had to cover the cost.

We received $1,000 from GrantEd (over two grants), which we applied to the overall transportation cost of $3,100. GrantEd was invaluable in ensuring that we could pay for a quality bus service to get our students safely to all of their NYC destinations. They lessened the financial burden that teachers in our Simon community faced and enabled our students to have a trip of a lifetime.

Unforgettable Moments

My favorite moment of the trip is actually the bus ride home. Not because I am excited to leave, but because when I look around the bus I hear the different parts of the trip echoing in the kids’ conversations. In one seat I hear DeAndre and Mia singing “A Whole New World” from Aladdin as they flip through the playbill and read about the actors’ backgrounds. In another seat I see Destiney quietly manipulating the kinetic sand she got from the science center. And tucked away in the very back I see Demazia fast asleep, because he probably stayed up way too late laughing with his friends.

This trip is something our students will remember forever. It of course relates to many of the academic goals that we put forth throughout the school year. It also says to our children that they are worthy--that they deserve a special trip with their friends and their teachers, and that we care enough to do it for them. When we have the courageous conversations amongst educators about pursuing equity in our schools, the first priority that emerges is ensuring a sense of belonging for our students. As teachers, we are the most valuable buffer for our students facing adversity. Be it trauma, abuse, homelessness, parental incarceration, or hunger, we are the first line of defense in ensuring that those labels are not what define our students. Though they may face many hurdles, our students are smart, capable, and have unlimited potential. A trip like this says to our students that they matter. We need a partner like GrantEd to help us bring equity in experiences to help us continue to unlock our students’ profound potential!

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