When I was chosen to help lead the make-up South Trip this winter, I felt honored to participate in one of TMS's most venerated experiential education trips and excited to share the load with Jesse, Lizzie, and Ross. Though we had to reschedule our original January plans to March, the warmer weather and emerging spring buds added to our already powerful experience.
From Montgomery to Selma to Birmingham to Atlanta, this whirlwind tour of our country's fight for Civil Rights brought tears, joy, and a new sense of camaraderie to our group of 8th and 9th-grade students. As the art teacher, I brought three digital single-lens reflex cameras and assigned three 9th graders to be responsible for the equipment and three 8th graders to assist each day. Having spent the last few days reviewing all the amazing photographs from this trip, I am overwhelmed by acts of kindness, new connections, and close friendships that grew even closer in van rides, hotel stays, and emotional tours of important historic sites and museums, and memorials.
The most touching moment from the trip happened in the Equal Justice Initiative Legacy Museum. In a theater inside the museum, a small group of us watched a short video on a horrific lynching in Alabama, which occurred less than 100 years ago. The story was difficult to watch due to its graphic nature, and an 8th-grade student began to cry. A 9th grader, who was sitting nearby, put her arm around the sobbing student and began to softly sing the lyrics to the song that quietly played behind the film. I found myself tearing up from the gesture. I will never forget that moment.
Ahead of the trip, the leaders had the opportunity to meet with and prepare the students for the coming trip, and I wondered how I might build in moments for arts curriculum. We watched the documentary 13th, which gave important context to the historical moments in race relations in our country and a contemporary perspective on where civil and human rights stand today. I also played clips from a documentary on Maya Lin, and we discussed the creativity and the design behind her Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery. This preparation gave weight to when we finally encountered the memorial in person, and it provided the students a lens through which they could compare their understanding of the other memorials we encountered.
In every museum, park, and memorial, we saw sculptures, read poems, witnessed graphic design, and experienced creative museum displays that gave aesthetic groundwork for the emotional resonances of these important topics. I found that having discussions on the role of art and design was easier than I expected and popped up at every turn.
The school motto "Work Hard, Play Hard" was clearly displayed. Despite our packed schedule, the students found many moments to play in between the seriousness of our experiential curriculum. While engaging in poker on the plane, playing football outside of the Tuskegee Airmen's hangar, doing cartwheels at a riverfront amphitheater, playing cards in the hotel on a night of thunderstorms, and practicing pirouettes on a hotel rooftop, the Telluride Mountain School students proved that no amount of energy would be left in reserve.
Our final reflection circle on the grass just outside of the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta put this trip into perspective. After the full week of confronting our nation's sordid past with slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and racism, the students shared their writing that was inspired by the trip. Their poems and takeaways proved that every effort my fellow leaders took to make this an impactful, immersive experience was an absolute success.
Below is a takeaway from one 8th grade student:
"... I think my whole takeaway from this trip was realizing how different Alabama and Georgia are from Telluride. I've realized we live in this bubble. A bubble where there is little to no diversity… Spending a week in Alabama and Georgia has changed my perspective on life. It's made me realize how lucky I am to have a family…This trip has made me look at life from a different perspective, step into other people's shoes, and stand up for myself and others. This trip was a very empowering experience, and I would love to experience it again."