As a motivator for good behavior during testing, I took them to the infamous Georgia Aquarium. We started our day in the park with lunch and explored the aquarium. Most saw aquatic animals for the first time, touched sharks, and asked so many questions. My students are often labeled as lost and are not included by many teachers because they are misunderstood. It has been part of my mission to dispel that myth and this trip helped to do that.
My seventh graders just learned about biomes and ecology and were relating things back to classroom lessons. They were well behaved and we received several compliments from staff and visitors. I was able to return to school and had my principal stop by my room by request of my students. When she came in they attacked her with a barrage of facts, stories, and reports on how well they behaved and were exemplary ambassadors for our school. I was beaming with pride when my principal took the time to hug every one of them and celebrated with them!
As an end of the year reward and bonding moment, I took just my students to a local animal rehabilitation park with lions, tigers, monkeys, and even roaming peacocks. Again, the trip started with a picnic; however this one included surprise visits from peacocks, ducks, and the occasional wild bird that roamed free. My students worked together and served each other lunch and then served my paraprofessional and myself as well!
After a great meal of stories and questions on the animals, we took a walk around the park and they played on swings and found frogs and turtles in a pond, even bonded with a few cows and bison in a pasture. As we strolled through the park looking at all the animals, my students would walk side by side with myself and my paraprofessional, with an arm occasionally grabbing us and pulling us to something exciting.
My 6th grader who struggles with reading took extra time to stop and read every single informational sign out loud to me and would ask for help on hard words; he beamed with joy when he finished. He then promised to come back next year able to read much better and even made a bet for a free ice cream if he could do it on the first day of school.
These trips were done as a reward to my students; however they may have been more of a reward to my paraprofessional and myself. We were able to see our students, our new family, demonstrate just how far they have grown and matured during the year. We were able to laugh and joke and prove to the school and to the students themselves that they are just as capable as students without disabilities to go on field trips and have a great time. My students were thankful, their parents wrote thank you cards to us, and most of all, the students all said they can’t wait to come back next year!
How did you finish the year with your students and how did you inspire them to keep learning over the summer?