Field Trips & Streetcar: One Teacher's Story
Since 2015 when Next Adventure generously stepped forward to sponsor field trips, approximately 5,000 students and chaperones have ridden Portland Streetcar for free. With the start of a new school year, we wanted to highlight how this community-focused program impacts our city’s students and their teachers, so we reached out to Lisa Colombo, a 6th grade teacher at Southwest Charter School (changing its name to Cottonwood School of Civics and Science) who is one of many teachers who have made use of the School Field Trip sponsorship.
Tell us about your teaching career. How long have you been with Southwest Charter School? What do you teach there?
I started working at SW Charter in 2007 when it first opened. I came from the informal education world -- science museums mostly -- and was drawn to this model of place-based education. I love working here because of the flexibility, community and trust. I feel very lucky that I get to explore the world right along with my 6th graders, guiding them to become involved citizens in their communities and to really care about the place they live. In 6th grade, we explore the chemistry of food, the human body through a simulation of medical school and the civil rights movement with a focus on local Portland history through a social justice lens.
What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
The most rewarding part of teaching is the connections I make with people. It is so fulfilling to get to know my students as people, their hopes and dreams and to help them grow into themselves. I also get to develop real friendships with their families. I am kind of an extrovert so being around people is super rewarding.
What do you like about field trips? What is a challenge?
Getting out into the community is a huge focus at our school and only few locations are within walking distance. We are lucky we have a streetcar stop only one block from our school. We use public transportation for most of our trips, only relying on parent drivers for the youngest students and for extended trips because so many parents work and have limited flexibility during the day. Our students are well versed in how to get around using public transportation and we often get compliments from other riders. The best part is seeing how much learning happens outside of the classroom and giving students an authentic reason to do work.
How do field trips fit into the experiential learning that is so integral to the curriculum of Southwest Charter?
We do make a distinction between field trips and field work. Field trips tend to be more geared towards enrichment and may be a one-time experience, like going to see a play at Northwest Children’s Theater or exploring the Portland Art Museum. Field work is about going to a place multiple times to collect data or perform a service or research. Each classroom has a special place they have adopted and visit many times over the year to practice stewardship with Portland Parks and Recreation and Tryon Creek. We also connect with local organizations like Oregon Food Bank and Zenger Farms for service learning and many classrooms make monthly visits to the library for research. Visiting and making a connection to these places and people is a crucial element to our mission of place-based education. Students would not care as deeply about these places without spending time there and learning how to interact with integrity and curiosity.
Is there anything you would like to tell Next Adventure about their sponsorship of Streetcar rides?
Next Adventure is a model of civic engagement and they are so supportive of not only our school but the health and wellbeing of all our citizens. By allowing all students to ride the streetcar for free, they are empowering them to develop deeper connections to this area. Thank you so much for all your support!!
Could you share any specific anecdotes about your students taking Streetcar?
One year, I had a group of students who were very aware of others and super compassionate. They would go out of their way to offer their seats to people. It was a badge of honor if they could give their seats up and after one trip to the library, one student ran up to me and shared, “We set a new record!” They had been keeping track of how many times they had done it and were so proud!
Another favorite memory is when our trips happen to line up with other classes. Our 6th graders were coming back from the Northwest Children’s Theater last year and when our streetcar arrived, we ran into our 7th & 8th graders! All the kids happily compared their stories as we traveled back to school together. Impromptu community building!