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The History of the Bank Street Long Trip

Creating 'Contacts More Real': Lucy Sprague Mitchell's Long Trips

When speaking to a group of teacher educators, Lucy Sprague Mitchell (1941) posed two questions: "What can we do to enlarge the groups to which student teachers belong?” and “What can we do to enlarge the groups to which their future school children will belong?” She believed the Long Trip offered an opportunity to move beyond “merely knowing about” people to actually “knowing them.”

In essence, the Long Trip grew from the aims and curriculum of the Bank Street teacher education program, with its focus on the total development of the teacher as well as the child. Based on Deweyan beliefs in education through experience and the social-political aims of education, the Long Trip reflected what Lucy Sprague Mitchell believed was important for teachers: studying children and the world in which children grew—as it was and as it might be.

So each spring, from 1935-1951, excluding the years of World War II when the trips were suspended, Mitchell led the entire class of approximately twenty-five to thirty-five student teachers, all traveling together by bus over a thousand miles, to areas of the country dramatically different from New York City. These week to ten-day trips placed the student teachers in a position to confront directly social and political issues of their day—the labor movement, poverty, conservation, government intervention programs, race relations—all the while considering the lives of children and their families, and the educational implications of what they experienced.

Mitchell (1946) was convinced that “learning that comes from first-hand experience has a smiting quality...” With the optimism characteristic of the progressives, she believed that empathy, caring, and commitment would grow from seeing the world from another’s eye. With the hindsight of over half a century, across years of work and family life, many of the students who attended the Long Trips have confirmed her belief.

Written by faculty member Sal Vascellaro (GS ’75).

The Long Trip History

 2017: Detroit, Michigan
We heard many stories of hardship in Detroit. But every account of oppression was met by a story of a neighbor helping a neighbor, an activist speaking truth, an engineer devising ingenious solutions, and people rising up. In these acts of kindness, ingenuity and resilience we saw a kind of humanity that we should all aspire to.

2016: Glasgow & Edinburgh, ScotlandKelvinggrove Art Gallery
We chose Scotland to see other models of Forest Schools where young children spend most of the school day in the forest. At the Secret Gardens forest school, children's interaction with nature is at the core of the curriculum. At the Mindstretchers forest school, the school’s philosophy is "inside,outside and beyond" with "beyond" representing the nearby forest where children experience “nature on nature’s terms”. 

2015: Copenhagen, Denmark:  The focus for this Long Trip was to visit a forest school. With Caroline McKenna as our guide, we navigated the city using local transportation and a lot of walking. The forest school we visited began as a summer camp 157 years ago. Funded by the government, the Forest school has 66 children, a building for a variety of activities and a nearby forest.

2014. No trip this year

2013: Panama City, Panama

We saw the Panama Canal in action and learned about the people and the cultures in this country. Our city tour revealed a thriving city with numerous gleaming skyscrapers and evident wealth juxtaposed with older, cramped, decaying buildings; ”two different transformation realities!”. 

2012: Havana, Cuba
We saw exceptional arts in education programs and made valuable connections with the Cuban people. We stayed in Hotel National which through its photographs clearly showed the early influence of, and link to, the U.S.

2011. Seattle, Washington: Focused on the cultural connections and community involvement among First Nation peoples as well as Asian Americans; their preservation, challenges and community engagement.

2010. Patzcuaro, Mexico: Studied the arts, culture and ceremonies of an historic and beautiful city and its indigenous peoples and communities. Visited the pyramids at Tzintzuntzan, archeological site and capital of the ancient empire of the Purepechans; saw the awesome pyramids! Toured two lakeside communities, Tocuaro and Jaracuaro, where we met experienced mask-makers and hatmakers, respectively.

2009. New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA: Learned much about the social, racial and environmental injustices in N.O. as well as the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina on the African American, Huoma and Vietnamese communities; experienced outrage over the juvenile justice abuses and inspired by the advocacy work of the Juvenile Justice Project to challenge the legal system.

2008. No trip this year

2007. Reykjavik, Iceland: There was so much to learn and understand about Iceland. We learned that Iceland is a volcanic island so the soil doesn’t hold trees. We explored Iceland’s history and culture through the captivating exhibit of medieval manuscripts, Eddas and Sagas displayed in The Culture House. We gained information from the Department of Education on preschool education, and then visited four play schools where we observed that teachers voices were rarely heard. Teachers trust the children to work by themselves, play is valued and the children’s engagement in dramatic play was evident. In response to a question re whether children play outside during bad weather, a teacher told us, “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing!”

2006. Charleston & Morgantown, WV: Revisited the first LT (1935) to Arthurdale, a New Deal Resettlement community for miners; learned much about the impact of mountaintop removal on the community. Bill Price, Sierra Club organizer, informed us about the work being accomplished by his organization as well as by the local residents in preserving the mountains and creating a healthier environment.

2005. Knoxville & Nashville, Tennessee: Focused on Civil Rights, Social and Environmental justice. Visited Maryville College founded in 1819 on the premise that ALL people could and should be educated. This ended in 1901 when state laws forbade mixing the races. We next visited the Highlander Center known for its focus on popular education, labor, civil rights, environmental justice and immigration issues and empowering people for action.

2004. Monteverde, Costa Rica: Studied the ecology of the rainforest, influence of the Quaker community and observed small scale agricultural projects in the St Luis valley. This trip introduced us to the natural beauty of Costa Rica, the only country without a standing army. On this trip, a recurring theme was how each individual can contribute to Change.

2003. Helsinki & The Aland Islands, Finland: Introduced to the country’s music, arts, culture, industry, education and history. Here, music is regarded as a ‘civil right’! In Helsinki, we toured the city and learned about life in Finland. There are 8 political parties and both the Prime Minister and the President are female!

2002. Falmouth, Jamaica: Explored the city’s rich cross cultural history, art and architecture, economy and education. The first Caribbean country to gain independence from Britain, Jamaica, land of wood and water, is rich in natural resources with breathtaking views throughout the island.

2001. No trip this year

2000. St. Helena Island, SC: Visited the Historic Penn Center, the first institution designed to educate freed slaves, also called the Port Royal experiment, founded in 1862 by Laura Towne and Ellen Murray and supported by Philadelphia Quakers. We learned much about the preservation of the Gullah/Geechee culture, sweet grass basket weaving, and of the former slaves outstanding work as skilled builders, carpenters,and artisans.

1999. No trip this year

1998. Santa Fe, NM: Engaged with the Arts, Storytelling, Cultures and History of Santa Fe. On our first evening in Santa Fe, we heard stories from her culture by Elena Ortiz; visited Little Earth and Rio Grande schools; the Georgia O’Keefe Museum; and San Juan Pueblo, Chimayo. From visits to the Pueblos and churches, we gained insight into the connectedness of the American Indians to their sacred traditions and to their land.

1997. No trip this year

1996. Asheville, NC: Celebrated Storytelling: “Tell It In The Mountains”, renowned NC festival. We experienced a marvelous workshop designed for us by noted storyteller Connie Regan Blake and Joan Blos, author and former Bank Street faculty.