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Anne Wallingford, WordSmith


Remember School Field Trips?
January, 1987

Do any of you remember school field trips from your childhood? Or, perhaps, some of you have had the questionable honor of chaperoning a field trip for your own child. At the school where I taught, field trips were a semi-annual ritual, much anticipated by the students, even if the adults weren't as enthusiastic. This excursion to Chicago's Museum of Science & Industry was one to rank near the top 10 most memorable school events for 1987!

The day began ordinarily enough, with students arriving in high spirits. The buses arrived on time, and off we went: 43 seventh grade students, and me, plus another 70 fifth and sixth grade students with their teachers. In order to save a bit of money, we had only ordered two buses. The seating was a “just a bit” jammed, with three students to a bench.

Upon arriving at the museum, Miss S, who was the ringleader for this outing, went to pick up our tickets at the ticket counter. Whereupon she was informed by museum staff that our tickets were being held for us at the Omni Theater—part of the museum, but the equivalent of four city blocks away from where we were. So off she dashed!

While Miss S went to find our tickets, we had the students dump their tightly stapled lunch sacks into tubs provided by the museum, then headed over to the coat check area. Why the museum had crammed the coat check into a space which was, at the most, 10 ft. x 10 ft., with an ordinary-sized doorway, is something I have never understood. But there we were, all 114 of us, stuffing coats into more tubs.

Our group milled around the coat check area for about 15 minutes, waiting for J to return with our tickets. Then we were off!

The first stop was the coalmine “ride.” Designed to replicate an old coalmine, passengers climbed a high metal platform and then rode a dark elevator car into the museum basement. Upon disembarking, passengers walked through a simulated coal mine. Various pieces of coal-mining equipment were on display. As far as our city kids cared, the exhibit could have been from another planet. But the ride in the train car was another story. The car shook and bounced and rattled and sparked most dramatically.

Next, we walked past the computer exhibit and headed over to the Colleen Moore Fair Castle and the Cars of Yesteryear. (Something for the both the boys and the girls.) Then it was lunch time! And that's when we learned that the museum had scheduled our entire group for the same lunch period but had allocated only three tables for all of us. With a bit of coaxing, we convinced the kids that sitting on the floor and eating picnic-style was part of the day's adventure.

After lunch came the highlight of the day—the new NASA exhibit. There were two films to watch, a 3-D space shuttle mission, and the “Dream is Alive” narrative with the late Resnick and Scobee. How impressive it was to watch those launches, especially from our seats in the Omnimax Theatre. At the end of the showing, the entire audience of 300 people (our group plus other museum visitors) saluted the lost Challenger space crew with two-minutes of silence.

After leaving the theater we scurried back to the coat check area….only to discover that two tubs of coats had disappeared! Poor Mrs. R., the 5th grade teacher. She went back behind the counter to help the attendant sort through umpteen tubs of coats. One visitor group even gave her a 25-cent tip when she handed out their coats. She took it. Our students thought she handled the task with aplomb and encouraged her to work at the museum on a regular basis. She glared at them.

At 1:55 we sent three of the older students out ahead of the rest of us so they could look for the buses. The students returned fairly quickly with the news that our buses had just pulled away. Those of us who had coats on headed out the door—only to watch from the curb as our buses pulled away! So there we were. Stranded.

Miss S quickly placed a call to the bus company, and was told that, since it was 2:00 p.m., the buses had to leave, with or without us. Despite our pleas, we were told that none of the buses could return until at least 3:30 p.m. And except for a dozen kids who still didn't have their coats, and Mrs. R., we could not go back into the museum.

Ever try to keep a hundred antsy kids amused for an hour and a half on a brisk winter day? We took a nature hike around the museum. Twice. We built snowmen, had a snowball fight, and made snow angels. We played “It” and hopscotch and then just jumped up and down to keep warm. And oh yes, we used lots of quarters. After we called the school and told the principal we would be late, we were told that we had to have the students call home to explain why they would be late. At 4:00 p.m., our buses finally returned.

In retrospect, this field trip was almost as much fun as the time our bus had a flat tire and another teacher and I were stranded with sixty students two miles from our destination, an outlying apple orchard where we were heading. For four hours. But that's a tale for another day!

Copyright © 2004 Anne Wallingford All Rights Reserved

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Thursday, July 29, 2004