image-intensive studies
Wilkinson School students walk across the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama during a recent trip to the south. Photo courtesy Jessica Giovannoni

The Wilkinson School spring intensive studies trip lives up to its name. The 12-day trip to the Deep South covered sites in Charleston, S.C., Savannah and Atlanta, Ga., Montgomery and Selma, Ala., Jackson, Vicksburg and Natchez, Miss., and New Orleans, studying things like the first shots fired at Fort Sumter to a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with the help of civil rights activist Joanne Bland.

The trip is a culmination of classwork focused on the South, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement. 

“We’ve done a variety of things to pre-teach,” said Kim Gates, middle school core teacher, “but there is no better way to really understand and ingrain history than being in the place where history actually happened.”

Some of the stops were difficult, like the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., dedicated to the legacy of black people in America. It includes exhibits on slavery, lynching, segregation and police violence. 

“That really put into visuals just how bad it was after the Civil War and Reconstruction, how recent all this social injustice was and the things we still need to change today,” said Gates. “The students had time to reflect on it and saw how they need to be change agents.”

The trip also took some time for lighter pursuits. The students went to a baseball game, visited an aquarium, listened to live jazz and took a swamp tour, where they got to hold a baby alligator.  Some of their most joyous times were on the bus between stops, singing songs with Wilkinson founder Ed Wilkinson, who came out of retirement to lead the school’s 24th trip.

While the middle school students were traveling, younger students back at home also had a week of hands-on, age-appropriate learning about the South. 

They were introduced to the Civil War through marshmallow catapults and a visit from an Abe Lincoln impersonator. They reenacted the Underground Railroad on the way to Quarry Park and the Montgomery bus boycott on the school deck. 

On Friday, they rode the public bus into Half Moon Bay to hear gospel singers perform at the Community United Methodist Church, then rode it back for a Mardi Gras celebration with music, masks and king cake.

One fun activity was the friendship scramble. The kids took eggs of all different colors and drew faces on them. They noticed how they all looked different on the outside, but when they broke them open, they were all the same on the inside.

Class 1 teacher Katie Marquis says it is important for the students to learn these values when they are young.

“They couldn’t understand why anyone would want to separate anybody,” she said. “They are civil rights marchers intrinsically.”

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