Feeding Teenage Dreams: The Power of Travel

The yellow school bus unloaded and the kids climbed up the stone steps of Memorial Union, into a small room with black and yellow folders laid out for them on the rows of tables.  I could almost hear their thoughts, "Great. Back in a classroom. Some field trip this is."

They dutifully filled out  information cards and listened to a bubbly blond admissions rep describing Columbia, the University, admission to MU, grade and test requirements. They were quiet, going through the folder, processing the information. The presentation ended with a college freshman who shared about her experiences and students got to ask questions.

And then, the tour guides arrived.

Faces lifted, eyes widened, and the kids sat up straight in their chairs.  The line of real college students filed up the middle aisle like a small army, and heads turned to follow them to the front of the room.  They introduced themselves, and when it was time to go, kids sprung out of their chairs to follow the guide they wanted.

I wandered out as the first three groups walked through the stone archway, crossed the street and headed down Lowery Mall towards the Quad and the famous Mizzou Columns.  They stopped periodically to talk, and then moved on through Speaker's Circle, into an auditorium, the Student Union, two dorm rooms and the Rec Center.  By the time I met up with all the groups again at Plaza 900 for lunch, they were animated and excited.  The dining hall was no disappointment either as kids stared in awe at all the food choices before diving in to fill plates and return for more.

As we walked back to the bus to return to school, the comments started pouring in, one on top of the next.

 "All this is right here in Columbia, and I never even knew it!" one girl told me, amazed at what she had seen.

"It's like its own city over here!  They have everything!"

"Did you see the Rec Center, Ms. Hagen?  They had three huge pools and all those basketball courts!"

"We got to go in two dorm rooms.  I never knew dorm rooms looked like that!"

And on and on.  When you take a group of kids, whose only knowledge of college is what they've heard in school, to a campus on a warm spring day, you see a new side of those students. You see curiosity and wonder.  You see genuine questions, wanting to know more, wanting to share and tell you everything.

The day was a reminder to me that we teach kids, and yes, they are, even as teenagers, full of curiosity and wonder.  Their bodies are bigger than when they were in elementary and middle school, and they sometimes look like they're grown up.  But they are not adults.  They are kids still learning about the world, still curious, still appreciative when they truly experience something new and intriguing.

In class the next day, the kids were eager to share all their experiences and the things they had previously thought about the University versus what they had learned and seen.  Some kids had only ever thought about sports because the Missouri Tigers are huge in our town.  Others had thought college was only classes and lots and lots of school work; they never knew there was a whole life on campus too.  Still others thought it was just Missouri kids that went there, they had no idea there were students from all over the world.

This trip was a reminder to me of the potential inside my students when they are truly engaged.  This new experience woke them out of the disengagement I often see at school.  They were not locked into their phones, resistant to listen or ask questions.  They were alive, curious and taking it all in.  Imagine if all our classrooms could expand to include the world?  Imagine if going places was a regular part of our school year instead of a one-time event?  I think it would be pretty amazing.


In June I get to take some of these same kids to Nashville, Tennessee to the first annual Project LIT Summit.  They get to hang out with Kwame Alexander, Nic Stone, Tiffany Jackson, and Jeff Zentner for the day.  They get to meet  teachers and students who, like them have started Project LIT book clubs in their schools.  Some of them will experience their first road trip, their first visit to Nashville, their first time presenting at a conference.  

After the experience on campus this week, I can't wait to be a quiet observer, watching my students take it all in, experiencing the power of connecting with new people, the power of writing and books, and the power of traveling to some place new.  I can't wait to see eyes bright, minds churning with "What ifs?".  I can't wait to see childhood dreams peak out and new ones ignite.  

As Jason Reynolds says in his beautiful new book, For Everyone

to remind us
that we are many.
That we are right
for trying.
That purpose is real.
That making it is possible." 

I can't wait to see possibilities bloom. 

Happy Sunday!


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