By Grace Brown ’17
Our village is a community composed of learners—both students and teachers value Athenian’s mission to develop life-long learning. As an Athenian, I have been encouraged to reflect, to think critically, to have an open mind, and to utilize the world as my perpetual laboratory and classroom. It has been through this unique approach in my education over the last two years that I have had some of the most profound and life-changing lessons—lessons that have reshaped and redefined me.
Throughout grammar and middle school, I yearned for those special days where I got to go outside the classroom to delve more deeply into a subject. During my freshman and sophomore year, I have experienced incredible out-of-the-physical-classroom journeys that have enabled me to gain a deeper connection and a broader perspective for my classes and their academic requirements. At Athenian, these types of activities are not an occasional treat; rather, the ingredients for each course have been grown with mindful reverence for what some at our school refer to as “experiential” learning or what I call “Field Trip” learning.
Testing Newton’s Three Laws of Motion
My ninth grade Conceptual Physics field trip to Pleasanton to participate in go-cart racing was a testament to the brilliant Sir Isaac Newton and an opportunity to help me uncover how I use physics, not just in the classroom, but in my everyday life. This was the most creative way to assist me in comprehending Newton’s laws. I experienced exactly what centripetal acceleration feels like, and I developed a greater understanding for friction, force, momentum, impulse, current, torque and angular acceleration. A scientific and scholarly day indeed! My conclusion—Physics is F=U=N. This new-found appreciation and acquired knowledge helped me process and ultimately bridge the concepts I had been learning in class.
Visiting the California School for the Deaf
A project initiated by humanities teachers Leslie Cushner and Sam Shapiro for my freshman World Literature class required me to independently step out of my comfort zone and put myself into an environment that was uncommon or uncomfortable. After much thought, I arranged for a personal field trip to visit California School for the Deaf in Fremont. I knew this was going to be a day spent in an environment completely foreign to me. I arrived early at the school and was assigned an interpreter. I spent the day shadowing middle and high school students. I did not know one gesture of sign language; however, my interpreter, Tracy, was amazing at helping me connect with the students. By lunch, I had picked up a few essential gestures and tried to leave my voice inside of myself. The students were incredibly welcoming—sitting with me, shaking my hand, patting me on the back and tapping me on the shoulder to get my attention and to initiate conversation. They were all so kind, trying to include me in every aspect of their daily lives. One of the younger students even went as far as to get me to a whiteboard, so we could better communicate with each other. I had lunch with the students and the only noise I heard was of chairs, plates and utensils clanking—it was intense. I finished the day with weepy goodbyes to all my new-found acquaintances. Hugs, sign gestures, and many waves as I drove off, deeply moved, and armed with an empowering new perspective and wisdom of what the hearing impaired go through every day. This type of real-world learning made me productively uncomfortable and was truly life-altering. It led me on an astonishing and rewarding journey of self-discovery, one which I am confident that I could have not received in a classroom.
Art in Jail
A teacher who is constantly creating daily student-centered activities for us in the class and discovering inspirational ways to incorporate experiential learning for us outside the classroom—”Field Trip Style”—is Stacey Goodman and his Art Revolution course. Adventurous and educational art journeys have not only complimented the interesting curriculum but impacted my knowledge and craving to learn more about the importance of art in our society. On one of our many art appreciation outings, we traveled as a class to San Francisco and arrived by boat on Alcatraz Island. We were there to experience the installation of contemporary artist and activist Ai Weiwei. The extraordinary exhibit transformed the haunting, old, decaying prison on Alcatraz into an amazing electric backdrop that housed the daring artist’s masterful works. The underlying theme was human rights and freedom of expression—two important issues I care deeply about.
After viewing the unusual and moving forms of art, I started to look at all art differently and questioned the overarching philosophy behind why people create it. I started examining how art made me feel—the interplay of artistic freedom within the confines of prison walls was statement enough to see the world anew—and how liberating it was to view different versions of art outside the walls of traditional museums and galleries.
This course offered me the opportunity to observe art in San Francisco on two occasions. We went to Walnut Creek and Berkeley to interview people on the street and get their opinions about art; most recently we took a trip to Oakland—highlighted by a delicious lunch of Burmese food. I have become authentically engaged with art and the place it holds within our communities at large because of this class. Inspired by the Street Art Movement I have studied in class and noticed on the Streets of cities outside of Danville, I convinced my family to spend Easter Sunday in Oakland—observing, discussing and photographing the most beautiful murals that grace buildings all over the downtown area. Contemplating the “street life” that is depicted in “Street Art” was one of the best days I have spent with my family all year. I felt the tension of the streets and the liberation of art crashing together at once.
Learning by doing. Achieving knowledge through real world experiences. Adventure education.
These are types of educational experiences that I have enjoyed in the last two years that have had a significant impact on me as a student. Not only have I had the chance to learn, but to retain and reinforce the knowledge in a really inspiring and conceptual way. Field trip learning—food for thought indeed.