History Comes Alive

It’s true; history comes alive for students on our American Heritage class trips to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, and more!

by Ryan Sparzak and J.J. Peterson

Thousands of middle school and high school students travel to or near our nation’s capital every year. Some go with their friends on a class trip to New York City, others go with their boy scouts to Boston, and other groups of any kind go to all of our other American Heritage destinations. Global Travel Alliance understands that these adventures are super-fun, close to home, and educationally exciting (to say the least). We’re also aware that classroom education trends today are more engaging, rigorous, meaningful, and action-packed. When we provide an 8th grade class trip to Washington, D.C., we like to say we’re helping to “build bridges” or “break down classroom walls.” We want to help teachers and students leave campus to learn about their textbook content in-person. Imagine what it would be like for teachers to watch their students learn about the courageous character of George Washington and the honorable actions of Martin Luther King Jr. on-location in D.C., then return home with those students who are now ready to take action – in their community now and later on abroad. That’s our goal. That’s our mission.

Absent are the school days packed with monotonous lecturing, reading, and note taking. Overhead projectors have gone AWOL and chalkboards turned in their two weeks notice years ago. Educating American youth in the twenty-first century isn’t just about technology – it’s also about engaging students from a different angle by providing them with an action-packed instructional plan. Students need to feel like what they’re learning is powerful, which is why we believe student travel is so important.

Leaving to Learn

An eighth grader might revel in reading about Robert E. Lee’s decision to turn down President Lincoln’s offer to lead the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War. But wouldn’t it be so much more powerful if that teen could stand where Lee made that fateful decision, at his house on top of what is now Arlington National Cemetery?

Or what about an earlier American hero – the father of our country George Washington. We can teach about and read stories from the Revolutionary War that illustrate how General Washington was a courageous leader who brilliantly wrecked the Hessians at Trenton in 1776. We could also guide students on a half-day tour of Mount Vernon, the home and plantation of Washington, to show them where he humbly retired to after stepping down from two terms in office as president – handing power back to congress – to be a farmer.

Same with the Battle of Gettysburg. Students can sit at their desks and calculate the numbers to see how deadly the Civil War was, but the black ink found in that textbook really pops when a middle school class steps off of the motorcoach in Gettysburg, Viriginia…on the battlefield…to stand where Union and Confederate soldiers once marched.

One of the more interesting stories heard in 8th grade classrooms is about the Boston Tea Party. Ever wonder what it would be like to stand at the end of Pearl Street, a few blocks from Paul Revere’s house, Faneuil Hall, and the Boston Common, and imagine what the wharf looked like that night 242 years ago?

What about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? Yes teachers talk about these in class, but what if a student group could stand in the same room those documents were written and signed? They could sit in their desks at school and learn that each signer of the Declaration was committing treason, and then they could stand inches from where John Hancock did so on July 4, 1776. That would be cool.

There are so many more examples (e.g. the branches of government and Capitol Hill, Abraham Lincoln and Ford’s Theatre, early 1900’s immigration and New York City, the Civil Rights Movement and “I Have a Dream” on the Lincoln Memorial steps, etc.) of engaging, rigorous, meaningful bridges built through our American Heritage program. Join us! We can take you there.

Building Informed Citizens

Of those thousands of students that travel to Washington, D.C. each year for their class trip, thousands of them probably never travel again – or at least not anytime soon after. This one-and-done student travel big business philosophy is not an educational ideology. Of course teachers give their students a “next step” action to take like daily homework or a summer reading list. So we do the same on our educational tours. We want students to travel the world, expand their global understanding as they watch their textbooks come to life, and then return home as informed citizens ready to lead by example.

Some of our 8th grade travelers participate in the Two Roads Project: CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT THIS AMAZING COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP OPPORTUNITY

Some of our kids take action abroad during their high school summers by joining the Service Scholars program: CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THESE INTERNATIONAL SERVICE PROJECTS

Our goal is to visit Washington, D.C., New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and more, learn about American values like honor, courage, service and sacrifice, and then put them into practice. Don’t just look at pictures in a textbook. Go! Serve! Lead! Change the world.

Thomas Jefferson once said “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”


Photos were taken of the following textbook: History Alive! The United States Through Modern Times © 2014 Teachers’ Curriculum Institute