Since the fall of 2016, approximately 300 seventh graders from the P.S./I.S. 218 Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School in the Bronx have enjoyed an annual field trip to Bear Mountain State Park, thanks to the Connect Kids Field Trip Grant program run by State Parks. The hour-long journey from the school affords views of spectacular autumnal foliage and the Hudson River Valley to our urban students.
Arriving at the site the students divide into two groups: one group hikes a portion of the Appalachian Trail, while the other visits the animal exhibitions at the Trailside Museum and engages in organized outdoor play outside the Bear Mountain Inn. (Some of our students suffer from asthma and don’t choose the mountain hike.) They return to school thoroughly exercised, full of excitement from their experiences hiking or observing firsthand the animals at the Zoo. The trip coincides with an English Language Arts unit of study focused on memoir, or personal narrative. For many, the hike up the mountain has afforded the first opportunity to hike a woodland trail that our students have ever experienced, and they write about their experience and recall it throughout the year proudly.
Because we teachers applied late in the fall, we traveled to Bear Mountain in early December of 2016. The smell of the pines was intoxicating, but a light snow had just fallen, making the trail slippery and a bit treacherous on the way up. We conceded that the mountain top was beyond our reach that day, and did our best to lead the students back down the trail as carefully as we could. We wished we had foreseen the footwear that the students needed to better negotiate the trail under slippery conditions – some were wearing sneakers with little tread.
In our second year, we scheduled our trip in early October, and our mountain hikers encountered a blazing hot Indian summer day. Though we reached the top of Bear Mountain, a few children had inexplicably brought loaded backpacks, which created all kinds of challenges for our teacher crew. Yellow jackets were abundant near the picnic areas below; one student was stung! We realized later how much we needed to bring an abundant supply of water for the return trip home on the buses. Vomiting incidents drove home that there were risks related to the heat, but junk food and dehydration played a part as well.
This year, the buses were very late departing the school, which cut short our time and made it impossible to reach the top of the mountain. NYC morning rush hour traffic can be unpredictable; next year we will be sure to request our buses earlier. At the end of the day, a shortcut on a loosely pebbled trail led to multiple scraped knees.
Each year, we realize how we can plan better for the next! So, for your Kids Connect Trip, be sure you …
- Require comfortable and appropriate footwear, depending on time of year; jackets if appropriate
- Limit backpack weights. Test as kids leave bus (allow only lunches and a drink)
- Outlaw sweet drinks, and chips or sweets for the ride! Students should eat a good breakfast!
- Bring first aid kits for bee stings, cuts, bug bites
- Stock an abundant supply of water on your buses
- Secure contacts of individual bus driver
- Remember your bus permit and paperwork to verify your site visit with a signature from Parks administrative staff
Post and photos by Heather Baker Sullivan, PS 218 Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School teacher