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Maximizing the Value of Field Trips/Lessons

tajiboye's picture

high school in a vine.

High school, to me, most closely resembles a marathon that someone else signed you up for and expects you to finish. But then even when the marathon is over, it's effects are everlasting, like that toenail that never grew back or that hamstring that never healed again. In this sense, high school sets you up for the rest of your life, but the experiences you gain from it are strictly dictated by the school district or school administrators.

Gaining admission into DeBakey High School for Health Professions (HSHP) was almost like winning the golden ticket to a career in the medical field. From the rigorous preparation for SATs and AP tests to the high pressure environment similar to what one would presumably experience in medical school, DeBakey is home to some of the most driven students in the Houston area. However, as a result of this environment, it is also home to many students that are so far removed from anything that doesn’t fulfill graduation requirements or supplement their college application profile. While graduation and college requirements can’t exactly be abolished, high schools should do their part in making sure that these requirements do not devalue the lessons that can be learned in high school.

Field lessons, also formerly known as field trips, were given to each class once per year. (The term “field trip” was determined to imply that the trip was only about “fun.”) The freshman class would go to NASA, the sophomore class to Moody Gardens, the junior class to the Museum of Natural Science, and the seniors to Main Event. For each field lesson  (with the exception of senior year), a worksheet was issued and supposed to be turned in at the end of the lesson to be graded. I remember each time being excited for a day of exploration and fun, only to have to complete a worksheet about the day. The fact that field lessons were once a year and also accompanied by a worksheet, took away the meaningful value and enjoyment of the trip, making it as though the field lesson was another day in the classroom but in a different environment.

An ecological learning environment is one that promotes the idea that "everything is interconnected" (Morton, 1). In this ecological environment, individuals are "living in connection, feeling the connection, honoring and then acting from interdependence" (Anthony and Renee). Looking retrospectively at my four years at DeBakey HSHP, I can't help but recall the isolating effect that the high pressure environment had on me and my peers. There was always a competition going on between everyone to see who had the most volunteer hours, had the highest GPA, the most club positions, etc. This isolating environment in which a student looks to themselves (and only themselves) to succeed is toxic and produces individuals in society that care only about themselves or act only for personal gain.  In order to achieve a more ecological environment in DeBakey, I believe a new field lesson policy should be implemented to ensure that learning is not limited to textbook learning and orchestrated lab experiments. In Sara Gladwin's "Divergent Thinking," she  notes that the environment can be used as a place of learning and can even teach problem solving skills, teambuilding skills and leadership skills (Sara.Gladwin). In this proposal, field lessons would be 2 times a semester (once every nine weeks) on Fridays (without classes or assignments due) and focus on 3 different topics over course of 3 (sophomore, junior and senior) years: Introduction to Social/Environmental Awareness, Social/Environmental Awareness, and Community Involvement. These field lessons would not be graded and would require student participation. Teachers would not be allowed to assign homework on the Fridays of the field lessons or the Monday after them, to allow students to calmly reflect and learn from the field lessons.  I chose to exclude freshman year because freshman year is usually when many are still finding their niche and deciding whether DeBakey is the right place for them to be. Usually, about 1/3 of the freshman that are accepted into DeBakey withdraw and transfer to other high schools.

Beginning sophomore year, the entire Friday would be dedicated to learning about social and environmental issues. The four field lessons would introduce the sophomores to national and local issues that affect their daily lives. These topics would include:

  1. The education gap: Students would learn about education gaps present in the schooling system and learn about what factors affect who has access to education and proper learning environments.
  2. The healthcare epidemic: Who has access? Why is this a problem? How are we affected by it?
  3. Social Justice Issues: Students would learn more about the presence of food deserts, air pollution that is more prevalent in more some areas causing higher incidences of asthma in children (usually in areas that have less access to adequate health care), poor infrastructure including sewage and inadequate waste management. This presentation would culminate in a bus tour around Houston showing places that are affected by corporate political decisions not involving those in the community. (I thought of bike tours, but then I remembered that a DeBakey class size is usually around 200 people.)
  4. Importance of green spaces: Looking at the purpose of national parks and other preserved or man-made green spaces. This final lesson would include a trip to a state park in Texas and potentially involve camping and a lesson about Leave No Trace values.

 Junior year, Social/Environmental Awareness, would allow the juniors to take what they have learned, apply it to a community situation, and use it as an opportunity to serve. The juniors would have the choice of choosing between the four topics discussed and engaging in projects that directly attack those issues brought up. The junior would choose between:

  1. Volunteering in an under performing elementary/middle school and be mentors to those children.
  2. Volunteering at a local clinic in an under-served part of Houston, using skills that are taught in DeBakey’s Health Science Technology (HST) class such as blood analysis, taking blood pressure and heart rate, etc. It would be a way for the students to not only sharpen their skills under supervision, but also in a way that is benefitting to their  local communities.
  3. Volunteering at community centers socially injusticed areas. In addition, working with the mayor or community representatives to make proposals for changes to these communities and communities that may not have these community centers.
  4. Volunteering at a local green space such as the Houston Arboretum or Discovery Green.

Senior year would be the year that all the seniors bring what they have learned through their experiences. The seniors have to collectively vote on a project that they want to pursue in the DeBakey HSHP community or something they would do as a community. This could include anything from creating a community garden or planting native species on the DeBakey campus. It could include a senior fundraiser for a community center/local non-profit clinic the students worked at and donating the money in order to fund future projects at those locations or a promotional video for education about all of, or a particular one of the four topics that could be shown to future students of the school. In addition, the project could be proposing a change to the DeBakey curriculum to better serve the community of students. Whatever the project turns out to be, I want the project to have a lasting impact and be something that the Seniors will be able to return to the school (or on the internet) and see the effect that they have had. 

One of the most gratifying things one can experience in their lifetime is making an impact that they can look back on later in life. I feel that high school is one of the stages in life where confidence is either built or broken. The pressure of being accepted into a highly ranked college or degree problem, graduating at the top of one's class or having one's life planned out can either make a high school student feel like a complete failure or like a truly accomplished individual. The aim of this 3 year project is to have students that leave DeBakey to not only have skills that allow them to directly interact, serve and have a sense of connection to the communities around them, but to also leave them with knowledge that they have impacted their own personal communities and made a positive difference.

Works Cited

Anthony, Carl, and Renee Soule. "The Multicultural Approach to Ecopyschology." The Ecopsychology Institute, 1997. Print.

Morton, Timothy. "Introduction: Critical Thinking." The Ecological Thought. Cambridge: Harvard, 2010. 1-19.

sara.gladwin, Divergent Thinking. Dec. 12, 2012.


Anne Dalke's picture

Thanks for a link to the image of a marathon…for next time, please follow the instructions below the text block on “insert image(s),” so that we can be drawn directly to your paper that-a-way…

To require students (who are focused entirely rigorous preparation for SATs and AP tests, with the single goal of getting into medical school) to engage in the world beyond themselves and the track they’re on—particularly to get them engaged in social and environmental issues—seems a profound application of “ecological pedagogy.” I love your decision to intervene in the isolating, high pressure environment that was your high school, by turning “field lessons” back into “field trips”  -- and even more your decision to create, during senior year, “field experiences” that have a lasting impact (Now THAT’s thinking ecologically…!)

Do you know the essays of Atul Gawande? He writes wonderfully about the joys and limits of being a medical professional. Just now I’m reading—and learning from--his book Being Mortal. You might want to taste what he has to say there…

I’ve also been in correspondence recently with a friend (he was my son’s roommate @ Haverford) who is taking a year off from medical school just now to get amaster's in public health—and realizing, in the process, how profoundly medical school fails to teach about health, fails to place the theories and practice of medicine within the larger picture of population health. He reports, “Best guess is that 7% of health status is due to medicine. The rest is environment (education, resources, disparities). Obviously it is hard to justify making six figures if you aren't making people healthier. A series of sociopolitical events combined with our form of market economy conspired to produce a peculiar mess of healthcare delivery and financing. But we didn't learn anything about why we work in a fee for service system, or why medical cooperatives are so rare or what socialized medicine actually means.

Why spend so much time learning about cellular signaling pathways? A weak political system allowed a small minority to skew health research toward biomedical science and away from the social determinants of health.

In medical school there is no examination of the priorities, no questioning allowed about the larger power structures that shape our profession. It almost feels like it's hidden as the AMA continues to claim that it represents the profession while fighting tooth and nail against the implementation of any law that would "damage professional autonomy.”

Anyhow, the attached piece presents a concise and informed expose of the theoretical confinement –economizing model--he feels trapped in.

Oh! And I love the malapropism in your final paragraph, where what I’m sure you intended to be “program” morphed into the “pressure of being accepted into a highly ranked college or degree problem.”

tajiboye & asomeshwar –you should check out one another’s interventions in engaging h.s. students…