Thursday, February 19, 2015

Our Richmond-- GRTC Style


This year for our school-wide umbrella project, we are all thinking about "Our Richmond'.

This topic has inspired us to get the third graders out into the city via that city bus system (GRTC). We are part of the way through a series of bus trips designed to help the children get into the city to connect with both the people of Richmond and the city itself. We have a dual purpose with these trips. We see the opportunity to go to interesting places where we can meet new people and have new experiences. We also see the bus ride itself as a big part of the experience. It is partly about the destination, but also partly about the journey itself.

As Mauren and I were planning trips, we wanted to connect to our history topic of immigration. We had planned to go up to the giant Asian market on Broad street to experience what it is like to be in a place where things feel really new and completely foreign. We imagined the children trying to read food packages in different languages, seeing fruits and vegetables they had never seen and plenty of potent smells coming from the tanks of sea food. We were so excited! As we were planning the trip we discovered that the bus trip, which would only be about 15 minutes by car, was going to take 2 hours and 15 minutes plus a walk one way. While the trip would only require a quick jot north of the river, the bus trip required us to drive all the way downtown, to catch another bus and then to ride all the way back out of the city to the market. We debated taking the children anyway, to get the experience of just how difficult it was to get there. Wouldn't that be an important experience to have? We debated back and forth for a while. Finally, after one of our other much shorter bus trips, we decided that the four and a half hours on a bus was way too much for one day. It wasn't going to work well for anyone involved-- not for the children, not for the teachers, not for the other bus passengers. We abandoned the plan.

We decided that instead we would stay on the south side of the river and head over to a little Mexican market/restaurant down here, hoping for a similar experience with new sights, sounds and smells. Again, it would only take about 10 minutes in a car. When we looked closer the trip would take 2 hours and 30 minutes!! We would still have to go clear over the river, into the city and downtown, get on a new bus, cross back over the river and then ride all the way back out to the market. No way!! Instead, we went to Tregegar, the historic Iron-works and Civil War museum downtown instead (45 minutes was all we could handle on the bus) because our trips downtown had led the children to notice all of the construction and changes that were going on. They had wanted to know what Richmond used to be like and to hear stories of its people.

In the end, we decided not to shield the children from the truth of the trips we were not going to be taking. The morning of the trip to Tredeger we sat down and let the children know about the plans we initially had and explained nature of their cancellation. We directed the children's attention to the actual bus ride with questions like, "What would it be like to get everywhere you went by riding the bus? How is riding the bus working for the people you see? What works for them? What might not be working so well?" The children, now familiar with the bus route and the routine of riding the bus, turned their attention to the people on the bus. What did they notice or wonder about these people and their experiences from day to day?

Our next plans involve taking the bus into the city to find people willing to answer our bus survey.

Hearing stories about Rihmond

Observing on the bus

Interviewing our middle school teacher, Myles, about his bus riding experience 
The project was made possible by an award from Partners in the Arts.