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How Class Trips Can Motivate Eighth-Graders All Year Long

by Hadassa Hoff and Rabbi Ben Shlimovitz, Middle School Hebrew and Judaics Teachers, Gross Schechter Day School, Pepper Pike, Ohio

As anyone who has shepherded a son or daughter through the joys and trials of middle school can attest, it can be challenging to keep eighth-graders motivated and focused on their studies during the final part of the school year. That’s not particularly surprising, given the potential for distractions:

  • For many students in a K-8 school, eighth grade feels like “senior year,” so there’s a tendency to put in less effort.
  • There’s more legitimate competition for their time. Participating in team sports or other activities can put extra pressure on a student’s schedule at the same time as schoolwork is becoming more demanding.
  • Some students have shifted their focus from the school they’re attending now and begun thinking more about the new school they’ll be attending next fall.

For many eighth-graders, the preparation that goes into taking part in a final class trip can provide a point of focus throughout the year. Class trips can be tied to science programs, cultural exchanges or simply a chance to see Washington, DC. At Gross Schechter Day School, virtually all of our students take a trip to Israel near the end of eighth grade. They spend three weeks visiting different regions of the country, many of which they studied during their years here. The trip also gives them an opportunity to connect with other students who come from backgrounds very different than their own.

Class trips are typically school sponsored, but they can also be organized privately. A well thought-out class trip program is designed to engage the whole class, to be inclusive, and to find way to fund kids from families of lesser means. At Gross Schechter, we strive to make it possible for everyone to participate. Our eighth-graders are encouraged to raise funds for the trip throughout the school year. For example, they’ve held several car washes this year, and they’re now gearing up for an all-school and family talent show in January. They are also raising money by providing babysitting services during school programs, managing the coat check at the school gala and more. The cost of the trip can vary from year to year, but these fundraisers help lower the cost for all students. Although some financial assistance is available, we feel getting all of our students involved in creating and producing these fantastic fundraisers is an important part of building the class’s sense of excitement and anticipation for the trip. We keep parents informed every step of the way of our planning for the trip, with several meetings throughout the year designed to help them understand their role in supporting and encouraging their sons and daughters.

The most educational school trips often have associated curriculum to provide a foundation for what students will see, with teachers developing and presenting special course materials throughout the year. At Gross Schechter, students of all ages are studying Hebrew and learning about Israel. The school day begins with the Pledge of Allegiance and HaTikvah, Israel’s national anthem. In subject areas as varied as social studies, language arts, art, music, etc., our integrated curriculum offers students insights into the history, language, literature, art, culture, politics, geography and agriculture of Israel. They learn about mitzvot (commandments) specific to the land of Israel and the writings of religious Zionist thinkers.

A local Israeli delegate visits the school to discuss different landmarks on the itinerary. Students pore over maps, researching different Israeli cities and the culture and history of the people who lived there, then present their research to their teachers and classmates. The trip gives them the opportunity to see the subject of their studies come to life. Best of all, Gross Schechter students get to know Makif Clali students from Cleveland’s sister city, Beit Shean, via Skype and group texts, then meet in person during the trip.

Our annual trip offers students and their parents a wealth of advantages, including a way to encourage a love of learning by presenting subject matter in an exciting, hands-on way. Learning comes much more easily when the subject is personalized and engaging, as in “Here’s where we’ll be staying” or “These are the local delicacies we’ll be trying.” The trip also promotes a sense of cohesion, creating memories of a shared experience with classmates who may go their separate ways next year. From a parent’s and a teacher’s perspective, the trip offers a powerful motivation for good behavior throughout the school year. Our students know they will be held to high standards for behavior and maturity if they hope to participate.

The trip to Israel offers our students a way to put a capstone on the whole middle school experience and marks the transition into the greater maturity of high school. As one of them noted in last year’s trip blog:

“We were all at a loss for words, thoughts running through our minds that we couldn't figure out how to express. I was extremely amazed; I never thought that we could have been influenced so much by the ceremony. I had been looking forward to many parts of our trip, such as the Kotel (Western Wall) or climbing Masada, but never expected Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) to be at the top of that list. Although it wasn't an exciting and fun day, it was the most spiritual I've ever had. Anyone with the knowledge about the Shoah (Holocaust), that we get at Schechter, needs to be here for Yom HaShoah at least once. It is truly a life-changing and eye-opening event to experience.”

Making the transition from middle school to high school can be difficult for some students and some find it hard to stay engaged in their schoolwork. A balanced, well-structured class trip can be an incredibly enriching and engaging experience that helps keep students grounded and focused. For many students, the trip gives them something to look forward to and a strong motivation to do their best, both at school and at home.

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