Sunday, March 9, 2014

Moretown School Visits Paris!

Why can't we have fun anymore in school?  That's a lament heard up and down the hallways of schools, not just across Vermont, but across the country.  With so much attention on assessing, testing, budgets, scores, reading, writing, and 'rithmatic, there isn't much room left for a whimsical, let's say, flight of fancy. Or is there?

For a quick taste of our experience, please watch this fabulous news clip from our local WCAX station. Julie Kelley created an extraordinary story for us.  It pays to have friends in high places!  The Montpelier-Barre Times Argus made us the front page picture in the next day news.  More pictures can be found here. It pays to get some PR.  All you have to do is ask: it makes the entire community feel good to see their kids in the newspapers and on the nightly news.  They are our shining stars, after all. 

Our principal, Captain Pierson, checking passports.

My colleague, Pam Dow, and I were awarded a Rural Trust's Global Teacher Fellowship grant last summer to travel to France and Italy on a 15 day cultural extravaganza for the senses.  (You can read more about it on our When You Wish Upon a Star page). As recipients of this generous (and privately funded for all you public school naysayers) teacher travel grant, we came back bursting with ideas of enlivening our teaching with our experience.  Then, it dawned on us.  Why not make a literal connection for our rural, Vermont schoolchildren.  Why not simulate an actual flight, on an actual plane, landing (actually, just play along here) in Paris, France. While some of our students have traveled, and a few quite extensively, many more have never boarded a plane and quite a few have never left Vermont.  We wanted to re-create the sense of excitement and adventure that traveling brings, along with the anticipation and preparation.

Serving mid-flight snacks on our AirFrance plane. 

In order to pull this off in the finely-tuned machine that is an elementary-school schedule, we first got the support from our superbly supportive principal, Duane Pierson.  Then, we talked with our French teacher, Erika Lindberg, who not only has a passion for the French language, but who has traveled to Paris and shared in our love of the City of Lights.  She was thrilled with the idea of a French immersion that involved the entire school. Then, with some weeks notice (but not too much advanced notice), we let teachers and staff know of our idea. They too were generous in their enthusiasm and support.

Mrs.Washburn, in addition to being our school secretary, got to play TSA official.
Here she is tagging a cartful of luggage on it's way to Paris. 

As with any travel to new places, learning about your destination is paramount to the enjoyment of the sights, sounds, and tastes.  For weeks leading up to take-off, students learned about the monuments, the history, and the culture of Paris both in French class, but also in Art, Library, and their own classrooms.  In addition, our entire school prepared for the trip by spending a day traveling in multi-aged groups to different workshops arranged by teachers.  In one class, students built marshmallow & toothpick Eiffel Towers, in another they explored mime a la Marcel Morceau, in yet another they explored French games.

The Cafe with baguettes donated by Red Hen Baking Company
 and "Le Cheddar" donated by Cabot Creamery.

By the Wednesday right before our extended winter break, students were prepared to board their flight to Paris. With passports and individually assigned tickets in hand, they eagerly boarded their AirFrance international flight from the comfort of their school library.  And what an incredible day it was!  The feedback from parents, staff, community members, and most importantly, our students affirmed our hunch: play is fun and fun is learning.  One woman in her 20s told me, "We never did anything fun like this when I went to Moretown".  Without a doubt, this extraordinary learning experience - disguised as fun - will be something I bet our students will remember for the rest of their lives.  And did they learn anything from this?  I bet your bottom Euro that they did. 

A student visiting the Notre Dame

Preschoolers take French too.  Bonjour mes amies! 

Look at this Mona Lisa smile!

Or this one .... c'est magnificent!