June 28, 2016, Day 2 Facebook recap: “We woke up early and went on a bird walk at 6am, spotting different species of hummingbirds, black King Vultures, and peculiar plants. Students collected the guano from their bat poop tarps from day 1 and got to analyze and learn about the seeds bats help disperse. We then walked across the suspension bridge to a site along the Serapiquí River to collect water and animal samples to determine the health of the river. Which was great since after lunch we went white-water rafting!
Today I was reminded what wonderful students we have at Palumbo. While walking across the suspension bridge, Tyler gave me support and talked me through the whole adventure so I could make it across both ways. Edwin gave me courage (and I think I gave him some, too) to jump off a (small) cliff while rafting. Najmah tries everything once and has demonstrated such an open mind to new foods, cultures, people, and experiences and is a wonderful influence on the other students (not just mine) on this trip. Tomorrow we are off to the volcano!!”
This entry was my Facebook post from my most recent international trip with three of my students to Costa Rica. I say my most recent because in total, I’ve been on three, including trips to Paris/Barcelona and Italy.
Now, before you jump to conclusions about my privileged students, let me give you a better picture: I teach at a public magnet school in South Philadelphia where 100% of our kids qualify for free or reduced priced lunch, and the majority of students travel over 30 minutes on public transit just to get to school. We are a Title I school and our student population is as diverse as you can get with a wide range of races, cultures, religions, ethnicities, and languages. Most students have not travelled outside of Pennsylvania, let alone own a passport. However, given such a multicultural setting at school, it’s no wonder students have a strong respect for different cultures and a deep curiosity for learning more about them.
Planning starts about two years before we leave for the trip, and my reward comes when I get to see the world through the eyes of students who finally realize the kinds of experiences and adventures that await them, if they only venture out. Like many teachers, I know my job is not limited to teaching content; I have a responsibility to mold my students into curious, responsible, and hard-working citizens. As part of that mission, I believe students need exposure to experiences out of their comfort zone, whether that means in a different part of the city, on a completely different continent, or challenging them to learn in a new and unfamiliar way.
Travel is not for everyone but that does not mean everyone does not deserve access to traveling. By creating these opportunities for my students, my only hope is that the students learn a little more about themselves, from trying new foods to handling foreign situations to meeting new people. On every trip I’ve taken, the lessons I see my students learn are not things that can be taught in a classroom with a textbook. They are organic lessons that rise out of experiencing the world, lessons like empathy, resourcefulness, and appreciation for different cultures. With each group of travelling students, I see a new band of inquisitive young people craving to see and experience all that the world has to offer.
So go ahead, pack your bags and take your students out – you never know what you may inspire!
Mary Wang is a native of Seattle, Washington, but moved to Philadelphia in 2007 where she taught chemistry for five years at Thomas FitzSimons high school until the school closed in 2012. She then joined the Academy at Palumbo family and currently teaches biology, coaches badminton, and serves as the freshmen class co-sponsor. She also received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching in May.