Established in 1985, National Teacher Appreciation Day is a well-deserved moment of recognition for our nation’s teachers and the endless contributions they have made to the success of our country. For the more than 400,000 students in CPS, it’s a chance to thank their teachers for the knowledge, inspiration and concern that they bring to their classrooms each and every day.
A dozen 3rd-5th graders from McDowell Elementary are particularly grateful to their teachers this year, as three of them recently spearheaded the ultimate field trip – a 48-hour whirlwind tour of New York City.
“Most of these children had never been on a plane prior to this,” said McDowell principal Jo Easterling-Hood, “and many of them had never really been outside their own Chicago neighborhood. These three teachers changed all that.”
The students departed for New York on May 2, accompanied by second-grade teacher Jala Phillips, special education teacher Thomas Walker, and teacher and librarian Joseph Rosen, who was responsible for coordinating the travel adventure.
“We spend a lot of time in class learning about other cultures,” said Mr. Rosen, who heads up the academic program for McDowell’s accelerated learners, “and there’s no better way to understand culture then to be immersed in it. Plus, any kind of travel broadens a student’s horizons.”
Mr. Rosen and his colleagues paid their own way on the trip, and spent months helping students raise funds to cover their costs. Regardless of what amount they were able to raise, though, no student was denied participation because of an inability to pay.
“These three teachers gave so much of their time and resources so that our students could have this experience,” said Principal Easterling-Hood. “It left me speechless.”
The first stop on the New York tour was the 9/11 Memorial – a site that had more meaning for the students then their teachers would have expected.
“I knew they’d see it as historical, but they weren’t even born yet, so I didn’t expect them to be so moved by it,” said Mr. Rosen. “They were very emotional. It was a touching thing to see.”
The group also visited Time Square, which proved to be the most culturally-enriching experience of the trip.
“It was great for them to walk around seeing different kinds of people and hearing languages from around the world,” said Mr. Rosen. “I couldn’t have dreamed up a more diverse experience for them.”
Other highlights of the trip included seeing The Lion King on Broadway and taking a tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – an experience they were able to share with the kindergarteners at McDowell via Skype.
“These were important landmarks for the students to see, because we wanted them to understand what they represent to us as a society,” said Mr. Rosen. “The fact that they got to then share their knowledge with younger students was a great learning experience for them.”
Before, during and after the trip, Mr. Rosen and his colleagues focused much of their time on aligning what the students had experienced with the new Common Core State Standards.
“We talk a lot about ‘place’ being a primary source,” said Mr. Rosen. “This means being able to bring your own experiences of a place to what you are learning about it in class. And you can’t do that unless you’ve been there.”
Another element of Common Core is being able to successfully convey what you’ve experienced, which is why all of the students who traveled to New York will be giving presentations as part of McDowell’s end-of-year education fun fair.
For Principal Easterling-Hood, the three teachers who took on the New York project are exactly the kind of educators who should be celebrated on Teacher Appreciation Day.
“Had it not been for the passion and dedication of these three teachers, our students would never have been given such an enriching experience,” she said. “They are three of the best teachers in the world.”