Field trips are always fun--the change of pace, the new sights and sounds. But this semester, administrators at the Academy for G.O.D. prayerfully considered how they could bring an additional level of meaning to class field trips.
“This year I really wanted the kids to have an experience that gave them a venue to enhance what it was they had already been learning in the classroom,” explained Gregg Garner, Headmaster and Bible teacher. “For example, students in Bible class have been learning about how the community of Christ organizes itself to serve.” So, service characterized the field trip 9-11 year old students took to a local elderly care facility. At McKendree Village students served the elderly by cleaning up and weeding an outdoor garden. After tidying bordered edges and planting new wildflowers, students carefully wheeled residents outside to enjoy the sitting area. During this time they chatted with the elderly and heard stories about school days spent in one-room school houses!
But the highlight of the day was when the students gathered around a piano and began performing a few songs they had prepared. Academy Principal Betsy Johnson, who chaperoned the trip, smiled as she described what happened next. “When they tried to stop the residents kept asking for more and more. The room kept filling with people, even the workers wouldn’t let them stop! They kept begging, ‘One more! This is the highlight of our month!” Organizing themselves on the spot, students continued to to sing in harmonies and play instruments for a full 45 minutes. There was even a spontaneous performance of Irish step dancing! Garner said of the experience, “They were really able to serve folks who had a need. The need they could meet was the need for company.” The class returned to school that day chattering with excitement. They all declared emphatically that they wanted to return back in the future for more visits at the Village.
Junior High and High School students had similar feelings after their field-trip into downtown Nashville, to serve at the Nashville Rescue Mission. This faith-based nonprofit serves the hurting and homeless of Middle Tennessee, offering food, shelter, clothing, and guidance through recovery programs. Academy students donned hairnets and served lunch at the women and children’s shelter, and then brought out a guitar to provide some musical entertainment.
Students did not arrive at the Rescue Mission by private vehicles, however. They loaded up onto a public bus near their school, and rode along with teacher and parent chaperones. The 1:1 adult-to-student ratio was arranged to ensure that each student could receive support and guidance as they navigated their day-long experience seeing the needs in their city. Trip coordinator Stefanie Price carefully organized this mode of transportation. “We wanted the students to get an experience similar to the people who they’d be serving at the mission.”
The students were impacted exactly as she had hoped. High school student Gerron Norman reflected on a conversation that he and classmates had with an older gentleman they met while waiting for the bus. Despite his rough exterior, the man was well-educated and articulate. Norman says, “He came up to us and started talking to us about the Bible, and he knew it really well! We just knew that God was keeping us there for that moment because that man had lots of good things to say.” Through that interaction students were challenged to critically consider broad stereotypes that cling to homeless individuals.
From the Rescue Mission the class rode a bus over to the Nashville Farmer’s Market where they enjoyed exotic dishes at their International food court! “It was pretty much… like heaven.” Norman remembered with a wide grin. The Jr. High and High School students laughed and talked while they ate, and then continued into a more serious time of debriefing with teachers. They reflected on Bible lessons they learned from the book of Exodus this semester, such as God’s response through the presence of a person (Moses), sent to aid a humble and needy people. That day at the Rescue Mission they were able to offer their own presence in simple aid, and have their hearts expanded as they heard stories and shared in conversation.
Teacher and chaperone Ashley Moore said, "The students were able to see some of the harsh realities that affect our own city. As we debriefed, they made observations about the difficulties some of the women they served suffer. They were tested as we waited over 45 minutes for the bus to arrive at our stop, a daily struggle for those without a reliable vehicle. They saw the affect they had on people around them, from the smiles they received from each of the women they served, to the laughter of the man they met at the bus stop that whose troubles just never seemed to end. Most importantly, they learned that their decisions, even the small ones, mean something."
Equipping youth to enter adulthood is a weighty responsibility. Our hope and prayer is that by teaching young people the word of God and helping them to apply it to the world around them, they can grow up to offer competent, compassionate service. And we hope they’ll remember afternoons like these, precious memories made with classmates and teachers, on a school field trip.