Why is it that when the weather gets nice, students unite in the cry, “Class outside!” Since science classes do not lend themselves well to portability, I’ve never done the experiment before, but I was inspired by videos of the cast of Hamilton visiting Valley Forge, Mount Vernon, and Aaron Burr’s house, so on Friday, my class settled in outside on the grass under the shade of an oak tree.
From the moment we sat down, the energy of the group was different from what we experience inside the classroom. The larger space actually made our group more intimate and facilitated stronger connections among us. Although there were more distractions, we valued the fresh air and not being closed in by four walls.
To get at the value of being physically present in a particular place, I asked each student to share his or her favorite place and explain how he or she felt in that place. My own mind goes directly to Delicate Arch at sundown in Arches National Park, so I rather anticipated that the first reports mentioned vacation locations for their relaxation quality. Somewhat to my surprise, there was a transition to what I initially thought were more mundane locations, such as “anywhere with my sister and cousins,” or “my backyard with my friends,” and I realized that those students chose favorite places that represented family and friendship. Certainly I was at Delicate Arch with my best friend, so my special place has that flavor as well.
Then three students named their high schools, or specifically the band room in one case. For these students, a music room was associated with like-minded friends as well as a strong and compassionate female role model and was a setting where they were not judged for being a little different. In these locations, the students were the best versions of themselves- strong, smart, funny, dedicated, caring, and accepted. Place and environment turn out to be even stronger than I expected at shaping emotion and inspiration.
Last spring, my sister and I went to New York City to see a Broadway show. Having never been much south of Midtown, we went in early to explore the lower tip of Manhattan and see the existing historical sites connected to Alexander Hamilton. I do find that as I’m teaching Hamilton’s story, my mind draws images of Wall Street, Trinity Church, and Battery Park as backdrops. Having memories to draw on rather than just photos enhances my connection to those locations, so I completely understand why the Hamilton cast would have visited every relevant historical site they could access. My stories are richer for being grounded in a sense of place.