When I was in elementary school, the end of the year was heralded by Track and Field Day, Pet Day (I’ll never forget the year someone’s sheep got loose, and all the dads had to chase it through the streets of Fulda) and a school field trip. For my eighth grade year, we took a class trip to the Twin Cities and spent a day visiting historical and cultural landmarks. It wasn’t until last weekend that I realized the superhero powers that teachers need to have to control their students on what is easily one of the most exciting days of the year.
I spent last weekend in St. Paul on a mini-vacation to see some of the touristy sights that I missed during the years that I lived in the Twin Cities.
When I think of the inner city, images of modern sky scrapers pressed against old churches and wealth and poverty passing each other on the streets come to mind. I’ve come to expect the unexpected whenever I wander through metro areas, but in spite of that, I didn’t expect to find the St. Paul sidewalks over run with children.
Everywhere I turned, some brave teacher was leading a line of students with varying degrees of success. From museums to art galleries to zoos, school field trips filled the city. The only place we didn’t run into them was at the St. Paul Library where keeping the kids’ volume at appropriate levels would test even the most seasoned teacher.
At the Science Museum, we waited next to eight-year olds for our turn to try making hydroelectricity and to see a real mummy up close. Built for curious children, the exhibits were laid out to encourage interaction and hands-on learning. I left knowing a bit more about the Mississippi River ecosystems, what the human bloodstream looks like and how tornados form. I watched a four-year old stand in front of a triceratops for the first time, his head tilted up to marvel at the ancient skeleton towering over him. I even heard a group of kids give a loud cheer for science after a demonstration with dry ice.
It’s hard to believe, but the Minnesota Historical Society was even more over run with students. 12-years olds ignored the panels of text summarizing the Civil War and went straight to a computer that translated messages they wrote into Morse code and relayed it to a telegraph that punched out the dots and dashed for the students to hear. Others used a treadmill to get a taste of what it felt like to plow a field with a pair of oxen or climbed through an imitation grain elevator to trace the journey of wheat and corn. The excitement of hundreds of students is contagious, and it wasn’t long before I found myself wishing they would move on so I could try the old fashioned register at the country store or poke my head into the 1870’s sod house.
I hadn’t anticipated sharing the weekend with so many children, but their enthusiasm at experiencing the exhibits for the first time made my time there richer. While I can’t say I hope all of my vacations are filled with as many students, it was a pleasure being able to see the world through their eyes for a few hours.