Ninety percent of what one learns at college is NOT learned in the classroom. And, for me at least, more than 90% of what I remember and use from my college education was not learned in the classroom. There is so, so much more to a college education than academics; sitting in a classroom, studying in a dorm room, taking tests in a quiet room, even receiving a diploma in a giant room are only a small part of the college educational experience.
This weekend 21 9th grade students from Ogden Preparatory Academy (OPA) had a 90/10 college experience….and it was awesome. AWESOME! Traveling in four minivans, we left OPA Wednesday after school, drove to Missoula MT and stayed on the University of Montana (UM) campus for two full (VERY FULL) days, driving home Saturday. The participating students had an incredibly rich academic experience and, in my opinion, an even richer crash course in college culture.
The 10% academic portion of the trip was amazing. We watched a star show in UM’s planetarium, visited UM’s world famous Hell’s Gate osprey nest, and examined collections housed in the university’s natural history museum. The students held a human brain, heart, and lung in their hands in the cadaver lab and I got to see an artificial knee. [The man whose body we learned from had a total knee replacement. Did you know a total knee replacement does not mean they totally replace your knee? They simply coat the joint surfaces with plastic and metal. Cool!] We looked at one grad student’s CT scanned images of modern bird bones and ancient dinosaur bones and listened to another grad student tell us he has killed 250,000 trees. [Note: He kills only seedlings that he has personally planted, he does it in a controlled, indoor environment, and his “killings” are part of a research project to determine what causes of tree death in the natural environment.] And that was only the first day. On the second day we listened to a fascinating lecture on the history of rock and roll, toured campus, heard from campus departments ranging from the health center to financial aid, and the kids interviewed representatives from subject areas in which they were interested.
As rich as the academic portion was, their exposure to college culture was an even richer educational experience. We ate four meals at the Food Zoo, UM’s cafeteria for on campus students. With a swipe of their (temporary) student card, they had access to an all the food they could eat. “I am definitely coming here,” Conrad said. “You know why? Cold cereal and ice cream!” I did not sample the ice cream or the cold cereal but I loved, loved the Mango and Sweet Chili Pork Soup and could not get enough of the Roasted Root Vegetables.
We experienced dorm life, including late night pizza deliveries, temperamental thermostats (the rooms were too hot even with the windows open to the chilly Montana fall), austere, almost cell-like bedrooms, and semi-public showers. “I am taking a bath tonight,” Ian said, “even though there is not a curtain.” Their roommates were randomly assigned and their rooms were not so randomly redesigned. We also posed in front of the Grizzly statue, cheered at a UM vs Portland State Soccer game, saw the pumpkin that apparently makes an annual October appearance on the bell tower’s spike, watched squirrels race from tree to tree and deer walk from lawn to lawn, hiked up (and down) the Mount Sentinel “M” trail, and successfully found buildings and bathrooms on campus. I suspect for them, like it was for me so long ago, over 90% of the knowledge they will use and retain from this college experience will be what they learned outside the classroom.
It was a fabulous trip. FABULOUS! Fun seeing the kids’ excitement. Even more fun to see Sam’s excitement about the kid’s excitement. Speaking of Sam, he was the author and executor of the trip, the one who made it happen. Clearly (VERY clearly) he did an amazing job. I was merely along for the ride….or the drive as it turned out.
One of the most fun things, for me, turned out to be the driving portion. Suprise!
I was very surprised Wednesday afternoon when Jose indicated that he and his four buddies wanted ride in my van. Seriously? Jose is the only student, in over 25 years of teaching, that I have had to ban from TWO field trips; all my other knot heads learned their lesson after being left home once. He repeatedly acted up for the sub and so repeatedly had to be left behind. Last year I had not one but TWO specially arranged conferences with Jose and his parents. Jose is the only student to whom I have said, “I am so angry at you. SO ANGRY!” I followed it up with “I am so angry at you because I really like you and now you have put me in a position where I cannot take you on my field trip.” And it was true. I did (and do) like him but I did ride him hard. I was very pleasantly surprised when he requested to ride in my van.
The pleasant surprises kept coming. The boys got in the van before me and when I got in the music was already blasting. Blasting music does not bother me, profanity does. I told them music was okay but swearing was not and asked that they keep it clean. And they did. The entire time. Without even a hint of a reminder. “Does __________ have any swear words?” one asked another. “Not very many,” was the response. “But it does have some so we won’t play it.” “This one is clean. “No, it’s not. Remember ___________.” “What about ___________,” suggested another, “It does not have swear words.” “No swear words but it talks about bad things so pick something else.” The conversation and song censoring continued for hours. They were darling. Darling! Also heart warming was their real regard for me. My boys watched out for me. I am still in a knee brace so my mobility is restricted. “You okay Mrs. Hislop?” was a common question.
Best of all was the comic relief. Boys are so funny. SO FUNNY!! Riding with them, listening to their banter, one would think they hated each other. “Shut up!” “You are so stupid!” “Ugly!” “Look at me! Look at me now!!” “Don’t look at me!” “I said DON’T look at me!!” Ragging on each other constantly. Jose complained about the “N” he got for citizenship in history. [N = needs improvement]. Had it been a girl’s car, there would have been sympathy and perhaps some teacher bashing. Not in my boy’s car. Daniel asked him about his academic grade (a D) and then he and Ian shot down every excuse Jose offered for his poor performance. It was fascinating to overhear. They cut him no slack. And the physicality--punching, poking, throwing things, grabbing, yanking, twisting. And giggling--oh my lands the giggling!!! (The giggling was very much like a girl’s car.)
It was an absolutely delightful trip. So good, in fact, that I am absolutely NOT looking forward to returning to the traditional classroom on Monday. Maybe I just won’t go….. Classroom experiences are only 10% of the educational experience anyway, right? Ninety percent is still an A-.........