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October 22, 2014 Travel Safety for City Field Trips By Alycia Zimmerman
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Teaching in New York City, I fortunately have an enormous variety of field trips I can pick to enrich the regular curriculum. In general, classes at my school go on at least two field trips a month, sometimes more. However, all of these field trips come with plenty of risks and stresses! Taking my 32 students onto subways and through busy intersections could quickly become dangerous without stringent safety guidelines in place. Here are my careful, well-practiced rules so that field trips are not only safe, they are also as enjoyable as possible for me and the parent chaperones. (To read my general field trip tips, check out my blog post "Gone Fishing: Five Field Trip Tips.")

    Obsessively stringent trip routines ensure that I don't look like this by the end of a field trip!

    Blogger Apology: While we try to keep our blog posts here on Top Teaching relevant for teachers everywhere, I’m going to break that “rule” this week. Because while most facets of our job are similar wherever we teach, the multitude of field trips opportunities — and the attendant stresses of these “subway trips” — mostly applies to us urban teachers. (Which other cities use public transportation for field trips? Please share your city-trip tips in the comments section at the bottom!)

    Bringing reading materials along for the ride keeps my kids quietly occupied while reinforcing a lifelong reading habit.

     

    Field Trip Rule 1: The Sacred Bond of Wingmen, Battle Buddies, Shipmates . . .

    You’re probably thinking that assigning students a buddy is pretty obvious, but stick with me. It’s all about the marketing of this idea — “buddy up” sounds babyish to upper elementary kids unless you sell the importance of the buddy system. For primary classes, it’s pretty straightforward to assign partners and ask the children to hold hands at all times while walking in a double line. But by third grade, a lot of my students, especially the boys, are skittish about handholding.

    So, before our first trip, I lecture the students on how every branch of the military uses a buddy system for safety. I present this buddy system as a nearly sacred duty. I go so far as to introduce the expression dating from ancient Greece, nemo resideo, or "leave no one behind,” and I explain that this is part of the creed for the U.S. Army Rangers and other military branches. I know, this all sounds rather militant, like I’m preparing my students for a war zone, not the C train. But honestly, this military analogy inspires an amazing seriousness of purpose, especially for boys who were buddy-system skeptics. (Showing parts of this Air Force YouTube video really drives the message home!) My students understand it is their duty to know where their wingman is at all times — and to call out for immediate help if they aren’t next to their partner.

    No, a buddy system doesn’t mean that I do fewer head counts. But it does send a clear message to my students that they are responsible for themselves and their peers. Generally, watching out for a wingman helps students become more responsible and aware of their own surroundings too.

    Students stand by their buddies on the seemingly endless escalator in the 53rd Street Station.

     

    Field Trip Rule 2: Bridge Hands Formation

    Not only do I assign “wingmen” for field trips, I also assign a lineup order for the class. Before field trips, we practice moving from a crowd into double-line formation by the count of ten. Once the students are in a double-line next to their wingmen, I call out “Bridge Hands” or I simply use a hand gesture. (I clasp both of my hands above my head.) This means that each pair of wingmen raises their clasped hands, forming a “bridge” of hands down the center of the line. I can very quickly count the neat row of paired up hands. With this routine, I can do a Bridge Hand “head count” in less than twenty seconds.

    "Bridge Hands" makes it easy to count students in pairs and to spot misplaced students.

    My students often leave a line formation when we’re touring a museum exhibit, taking seats in a theater, or boarding the subway. So, it gives me much-needed peace of mind to know that I can quickly line up and count my entire class in any environment. We practice this formation at school with a timer. I know this sounds neurotic, but this military-style precision is so worth it when we’re transferring from the E train to the 6 train and I need to count my students on that bustling subway platform before the endless escalator ride. I HATE that transfer — but Bridge Hands Formation makes it better.

     

    Field Trip Rule 3: One Door Only for the Subway

    Another inviolable field trip rule is my One-Door-Only policy for the subway. I know this must sound like absurd minutia, but I promise, fanatical adherence to this rule will ensure no student is left behind. I teach my students to stand by the wall while waiting for the subway. (Or to stand at the dead center of the platform for double-sided subway platforms.) I draw diagrams of subway platforms on the board in my classroom and I call on students to mark the safe zones like a football coach diagramming plays. As the subway is pulling into the station, the students are expected to “freeze” in their safe spots.

    After the train has stopped, I point to one subway door — MY door — and the entire class needs to enter through that door. I block the doors with my body and count each child as they walk onto the train. We repeat the process when we leave the subway: I announce which door we’ll use as the train is pulling into the station, and I count each individual child as he quickly walks off.

    I let parent chaperones know that they are welcome to use other doors, but every child must pass through my door to be counted. Since I am blocking the door with my body (and the conductor clearly sees a horde of 32 kids on the platform), there is no danger of the train leaving before all of the kids have safely boarded. I can also do a quick visual sweep of the platform or train car to make sure it is empty of kids before I step out of the doorway.

     

    Other City Field Trip Tips:

    I review appropriate subway etiquette with my class before each trip. Our rules include:

    • Library level voices; this works particularly well when the students bring books and periodicals to read during the ride.

    • No “musical chairs.” Choose a spot when you enter the subway car and stay in that location for the duration of the ride.

    • If you are standing, you must hold on. No “subway surfing.”

    • Stand up and graciously offer your seat to elderly and pregnant passengers and anyone who looks physically uncomfortable standing. (It’s always amusing to see whom my students’ classify as elderly; they have a low bar.)

    Be patient at intersections. It takes my class every single second from when the light changes until the very last flash of the don’t-walk-hand to cross an avenue. So I won’t begin crossing a street unless my entire class is gathered up by the corner, ready to cross. If there is a “stale” walk symbol on the traffic signal, I wait until the next cycle to cross. It’s better to wait than to rush 32 kids across a busy intersection.

    Use parent chaperones strategically. I always station chaperones by each of the doors on the subway. I also ask chaperones to block turning traffic when we’re crossing at an intersection.

    Drilling the rules means that I can let my students have fun and be silly at appropriate times. 

    What are your city field trip rules? Do you take your class on public transportation? If you don’t use subways, do you have suggestions for school bus field trips? (That’s outside my field of expertise.) Please share your survival strategies in the comments section below!

    For updates on my upcoming blog posts, please follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

               

    •       One year ago: "Organizing My Classroom Library . . . Again!"

    •       Two years ago: "Anchor Charts: Academic Supports or Print-Rich Wallpaper?"

    •       Three years ago: "The Pumpkin Project — Math, Science, and Fun!"

     

    Join us for an exclusive video with Taylor Swift about books, and how reading and writing have influenced her.

    Teaching in New York City, I fortunately have an enormous variety of field trips I can pick to enrich the regular curriculum. In general, classes at my school go on at least two field trips a month, sometimes more. However, all of these field trips come with plenty of risks and stresses! Taking my 32 students onto subways and through busy intersections could quickly become dangerous without stringent safety guidelines in place. Here are my careful, well-practiced rules so that field trips are not only safe, they are also as enjoyable as possible for me and the parent chaperones. (To read my general field trip tips, check out my blog post "Gone Fishing: Five Field Trip Tips.")

    Obsessively stringent trip routines ensure that I don't look like this by the end of a field trip!

    Blogger Apology: While we try to keep our blog posts here on Top Teaching relevant for teachers everywhere, I’m going to break that “rule” this week. Because while most facets of our job are similar wherever we teach, the multitude of field trips opportunities — and the attendant stresses of these “subway trips” — mostly applies to us urban teachers. (Which other cities use public transportation for field trips? Please share your city-trip tips in the comments section at the bottom!)

    Bringing reading materials along for the ride keeps my kids quietly occupied while reinforcing a lifelong reading habit.

     

    Field Trip Rule 1: The Sacred Bond of Wingmen, Battle Buddies, Shipmates . . .

    You’re probably thinking that assigning students a buddy is pretty obvious, but stick with me. It’s all about the marketing of this idea — “buddy up” sounds babyish to upper elementary kids unless you sell the importance of the buddy system. For primary classes, it’s pretty straightforward to assign partners and ask the children to hold hands at all times while walking in a double line. But by third grade, a lot of my students, especially the boys, are skittish about handholding.

    So, before our first trip, I lecture the students on how every branch of the military uses a buddy system for safety. I present this buddy system as a nearly sacred duty. I go so far as to introduce the expression dating from ancient Greece, nemo resideo, or "leave no one behind,” and I explain that this is part of the creed for the U.S. Army Rangers and other military branches. I know, this all sounds rather militant, like I’m preparing my students for a war zone, not the C train. But honestly, this military analogy inspires an amazing seriousness of purpose, especially for boys who were buddy-system skeptics. (Showing parts of this Air Force YouTube video really drives the message home!) My students understand it is their duty to know where their wingman is at all times — and to call out for immediate help if they aren’t next to their partner.

    No, a buddy system doesn’t mean that I do fewer head counts. But it does send a clear message to my students that they are responsible for themselves and their peers. Generally, watching out for a wingman helps students become more responsible and aware of their own surroundings too.

    Students stand by their buddies on the seemingly endless escalator in the 53rd Street Station.

     

    Field Trip Rule 2: Bridge Hands Formation

    Not only do I assign “wingmen” for field trips, I also assign a lineup order for the class. Before field trips, we practice moving from a crowd into double-line formation by the count of ten. Once the students are in a double-line next to their wingmen, I call out “Bridge Hands” or I simply use a hand gesture. (I clasp both of my hands above my head.) This means that each pair of wingmen raises their clasped hands, forming a “bridge” of hands down the center of the line. I can very quickly count the neat row of paired up hands. With this routine, I can do a Bridge Hand “head count” in less than twenty seconds.

    "Bridge Hands" makes it easy to count students in pairs and to spot misplaced students.

    My students often leave a line formation when we’re touring a museum exhibit, taking seats in a theater, or boarding the subway. So, it gives me much-needed peace of mind to know that I can quickly line up and count my entire class in any environment. We practice this formation at school with a timer. I know this sounds neurotic, but this military-style precision is so worth it when we’re transferring from the E train to the 6 train and I need to count my students on that bustling subway platform before the endless escalator ride. I HATE that transfer — but Bridge Hands Formation makes it better.

     

    Field Trip Rule 3: One Door Only for the Subway

    Another inviolable field trip rule is my One-Door-Only policy for the subway. I know this must sound like absurd minutia, but I promise, fanatical adherence to this rule will ensure no student is left behind. I teach my students to stand by the wall while waiting for the subway. (Or to stand at the dead center of the platform for double-sided subway platforms.) I draw diagrams of subway platforms on the board in my classroom and I call on students to mark the safe zones like a football coach diagramming plays. As the subway is pulling into the station, the students are expected to “freeze” in their safe spots.

    After the train has stopped, I point to one subway door — MY door — and the entire class needs to enter through that door. I block the doors with my body and count each child as they walk onto the train. We repeat the process when we leave the subway: I announce which door we’ll use as the train is pulling into the station, and I count each individual child as he quickly walks off.

    I let parent chaperones know that they are welcome to use other doors, but every child must pass through my door to be counted. Since I am blocking the door with my body (and the conductor clearly sees a horde of 32 kids on the platform), there is no danger of the train leaving before all of the kids have safely boarded. I can also do a quick visual sweep of the platform or train car to make sure it is empty of kids before I step out of the doorway.

     

    Other City Field Trip Tips:

    I review appropriate subway etiquette with my class before each trip. Our rules include:

    • Library level voices; this works particularly well when the students bring books and periodicals to read during the ride.

    • No “musical chairs.” Choose a spot when you enter the subway car and stay in that location for the duration of the ride.

    • If you are standing, you must hold on. No “subway surfing.”

    • Stand up and graciously offer your seat to elderly and pregnant passengers and anyone who looks physically uncomfortable standing. (It’s always amusing to see whom my students’ classify as elderly; they have a low bar.)

    Be patient at intersections. It takes my class every single second from when the light changes until the very last flash of the don’t-walk-hand to cross an avenue. So I won’t begin crossing a street unless my entire class is gathered up by the corner, ready to cross. If there is a “stale” walk symbol on the traffic signal, I wait until the next cycle to cross. It’s better to wait than to rush 32 kids across a busy intersection.

    Use parent chaperones strategically. I always station chaperones by each of the doors on the subway. I also ask chaperones to block turning traffic when we’re crossing at an intersection.

    Drilling the rules means that I can let my students have fun and be silly at appropriate times. 

    What are your city field trip rules? Do you take your class on public transportation? If you don’t use subways, do you have suggestions for school bus field trips? (That’s outside my field of expertise.) Please share your survival strategies in the comments section below!

    For updates on my upcoming blog posts, please follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

               

    •       One year ago: "Organizing My Classroom Library . . . Again!"

    •       Two years ago: "Anchor Charts: Academic Supports or Print-Rich Wallpaper?"

    •       Three years ago: "The Pumpkin Project — Math, Science, and Fun!"

     

    Join us for an exclusive video with Taylor Swift about books, and how reading and writing have influenced her.

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