Whatever happened to field trips?

Field trips have been on the decline at LMHS. Read to find out what restrictions are preventing educational experiences outside the school building.

Graphic by Emma Liu ’22/Staff

It was not long ago that we were all stuck learning from inside the walls of our bedrooms while quarantined from the rest of the world. However, despite all the progress we have made since March 2020, we are all stuck learning from inside the walls of LM. Prior to the pandemic, field trips were an integral part of the “transformative curriculum” that the district sought to execute as part of the “All Forward” strategic plan in 2014. The team of seventy administrators, teachers, students, parents, and other community members set goals to finish implementing the plan by 2020, expecting that “every student participates in at least one local service program and a workplace internship by the time they complete high school” and “students have the opportunity to study abroad as part of their development as global citizens.” However, the sum of our out-of-school experiences seems to have diverged from the 2020 expectations. Instead of expanding our reach further beyond the Main Line, education has been confined to the school building, limiting the cultural and developmental progress the Strategic Plan called for. Physics teacher Jeffery Heller notes, “I think it was one of the real strengths of the school that we had a lot of field trips.”

While some of the restrictions on field trips have tightened due to the precarity of the pandemic, others have existed long before we were sent home in 2020. For instance, a field trip committee made of administrators has regulated every field trip request for at least four years. Additionally, while teachers were previously permitted to submit their own requests for field trips, they have been required to submit them through the Activities and Athletics Office for the past few years. This extra barrier between teachers and district administrators further filters the activities that are even considered for off-campus experiences.

However, even if field trip requests make their way through administration, finding nurses that could provide necessary services on trips has become increasingly difficult for the district, especially at LM. Now, with a staff of only four nurses to balance everyday needs with those related to COVID-19 (e.g. contact tracing, testing, etc.), there are not enough services to accommodate the multitude of people in the building in addition to anyone going off-campus. Another blow to field trips has been the insufficient amount of bus drivers since 2020, which remains too low despite district emails looking for applications.

Beyond transportation, other constraints limit the types of trips allowed off-campus. At present, according to Activities and Athletics Director Jason Stroup, field trips are only being considered if they involve service, performances, or competitions. For instance, the music department traveled to Disney for a performance this March. Due to these constraints, most trips are taken for extracurricular activities rather than curriculum-based learning. This directly contradicts the plan set out by the Strategic Plan in 2014, as it prevents learning from expanding to other settings and shrinks the field of education.

One of the most well-known and anticipated trips at LM was the one to Six Flags that used to take place annually in late spring for physics students. However, the trip has not run since 2019 due to the pandemic and current restrictions that inhibit  curriculum-based trips. When Heller requested to run the field trip this year, he “got kind of a vague response at first from the Athletics and Activities Office.” Eventually, Stroup told Heller to put through an official request and sent it to the Central Administration Field Trip Committee, who told Heller that “they’re not approving field trips this year other than competitions.” He still has not found out the reason why only competitions are being permitted as off-campus excursions, but plans to investigate it in the future. 

The Six Flags trip was formerly a highlight after a grueling year of extremely difficult subject matter and made for a revered LM tradition. Sophie Roth ’20 recalls that, beyond the physics aspect, “it [was] a great thing the school [did] to promote balancing stress!” Experiencing the topics learned in the classroom in a different setting gave students perspective on the real applications of the work, but it was done in a way that students enjoyed and looked forward to as an alternative form of learning. Physics teacher David Vinci speaks to his own experiences going on the trip with his physics students: “I went to college for engineering so applications of what we do are super important to me… [at Six Flags,] you do see real world applications.” To him, it was a crucial way to culminate the topics on the curriculum in an understandable and fun fashion. Roth proclaim that it’s “always important to take the time to do enjoyable things and reward yourself for working hard,” as the students of LM so characteristically do.  

With local policies allowing masks to be optional and global discoveries enabling people to be safer, COVID-19 is no longer as prominent of a limiting factor in our lives. Students and teachers alike are eager to resume the unique learning experiences valued at LM, but barriers of health, transportation, and administrative oversight have made field trips seemingly a thing of the past.  

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