State history, government focus of Worthington Middle School field trip
WORTHINGTON -- Packing 180 sleepy sixth-graders onto several buses at 6:30 a.m. is no easy task on any day of the week, but Worthington Middle School (WMS) teachers did just that on Oct. 16.
Their destination? The Twin Cities, for a day-long field trip to the state capitol and the Mill City Museum.
"All the sixth-graders have Minnesota Studies as a class, which is a first this year," explained veteran sixth-grade teacher Paula Wolyniec. "We've taken this trip in the past more often in April or May, but it also tied in nicely with the election.
"One reason we like to do it is that a large number of our students would not otherwise have the opportunity to visit these places," she continued. "Some of them have never been to either Minneapolis or St. Paul before, so this is a great way to get them thinking about what their roles are as citizens of Minnesota."
In her classes, Wolyniec made sure to cover some of the high points of the sites the students would see in advance of their journey.
For instance, she talked about the history of Minnesota's milling industry and how it affected the state's growth and economy.
"Then they had the chance to visit the Mill City Museum and see how a working mill actually operated," Wolyniec noted. "They liked the 'Flour Tower,' an elevator that holds around 30 people and moves up and down as the flour milling history is chronicled.
"There are quite a lot of hands-on activities for the students at Mill City, like the water lab, and they gravitate to that."
At the State Capitol, where the students, teachers and parent chaperones ate their lunches on the lawn, the group enjoyed a 45-minute tour of the capitol building.
"The guides took us to the chambers of the State Supreme Court, the House of Representatives and the governor's reception room," Wolyniec listed. "We had discussed state government and its different branches in preparation for the trip, too.
"The tour guides asked us, 'Who does this building belong to?' and it was eye-opening for the students to realize it belongs to them, it is their building."
A walk on the Capitol mall also introduced the 11- and 12-year-olds to several memorials, including the Korean War Memorial, the Peace Officer Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial.
"There are quite a few more on the mall, but the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial is my favorite," admitted Wolyniec. "It's very nicely designed, and there is a huge map of Minnesota on the ground, with all the counties outlined, that you can walk on.
"There are black squares for each service person who died in the various counties, and there is a pond shaped like Lake Superior that fits with the map -- it really makes an impact."
The field trip provided a natural lead-in to the upcoming general election -- and at WMS, the minimum voting age is only 10.
"We will have a mock election on Nov. 6," Wolyniec said. "During the lunch hour, the kids can vote -- not only for president, but also for state representatives, senators and on the two state amendments.
"Scott Barber, one of our seventh-grade social studies teachers, took the Minnesota ballot and made it a little more manageable for the students," she added. "The school's social studies teachers will staff the 'voting booths' and serve as election judges, and by the end of the day the votes will be tabulated so students can know who won here."
Currently, eighth-graders are researching the various candidates, and on Nov. 2, they will share results of that research with the entire student body.
"We've done this in the past, and I think it's both fun and educational," Wolyniec said. "The reasons why the kids vote for the candidates they do are often nonsensical and mostly based on their perceptions of which candidate will do the most for them."
And is that much different from how many adults choose to cast their votes?
"No, I guess it really isn't," laughed Wolyniec.
For next year's sixth-graders, the WMS staff is considering returning to the state capitol in April 2014 so they might have a chance to see the state legislature in action. Nevertheless, Wolyniec and her colleagues believe this year's trip was an educational success.
"Everything went very smoothly," assured Wolyniec.