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30 sixth graders planned a trip to New York City - here's what happened

Posted November 22, 2019 5:00 a.m. EST

This article was written for our sponsor, the Montessori School of Raleigh.

Class trips often take strong planning from parents and faculty, even for small ventures to a nearby museum or cultural center. So imagine what would happen if 30 children took a trip 500 miles away from home, and they planned every aspect of the trip themselves.

That's exactly what the sixth-grade students at the Montessori School of Raleigh do every year. The annual "Odyssey" is a five-day trip to the Big Apple, where students plan every bit of what their classmates do – from attending museums and lectures during the day, to seeing shows and having dinner together at night.

Gregory Dahlin, an MSR Upper Elementary teacher, said students are encouraged to take ownership of their education and responsibility for the wellbeing of the group.

"This wonderful project provides an opportunity for our sixth years to bring together their study of fundamental needs," Dahlin said. "Their work together helps the students understand how human needs have been met over hundreds of years."

This year's students began by looking into subjects they'd like to study during their time in the city, from architecture and transportation to science and anything in between. Dahlin said they looked into more than just their subjects' effect on basic human needs.

"Architecture has to do with shelter, but it has to do with a little bit of something more because the students' earlier studies have suggested that buildings do more than shelter," Dahlin explained. "Some buildings are a specific height for the symbolism, like the Freedom Tower [1,776 feet tall]," Dahlin added.

Once a subject was identified, students reached out to local resources to begin understanding their subjects. This gave the students background knowledge and prepared them for the almost week-long trip, where the sixth graders selected what their classmates would do each day.

The students also navigate the streets themselves (under adult supervision) and set up different activities for the group to do in their downtime – anything from making their own reservations at a restaurant to claiming a spot for the class at an interesting lecture.

"We do have to prepare some places for this kind of experience," Dahlin said. "Sometimes people can be surprised that a 12-year-old is contacting them to make reservations or arrange a behind-the-scenes tour at a famous opera house."

One student this year even co-led a tour with a guide, where the student did most of the talking and the guide filled in any missing parts.

While the idea of letting preteens plan an entire trip to the largest city in the United States seems daunting, Dahlin said he never worries.

"I've come to see what this can be over time," he said. "They do a lot of work to prepare. So there's this real strong current of freedom and responsibility. This is something they not only get to do, but also have the responsibility to do and to do it safely and in consideration of the needs of the entire group."

Of course, teachers and chaperones were there to guide, but they left leading the group up to the kids. Dahlin said the only time teachers intervened was to ask questions along the way, like, "Do you want to double check the train schedule one more time?"

"It is about the Montessori 'freedom within a framework,'" Dahlin reminded. "It's within that framework that children have the freedom to grow and get creative."

This article was written for our sponsor, the Montessori School of Raleigh.

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