Sometimes it feels like the stars are all aligned and the heavens have opened up. I had a recent experience that was so wonderful I have to share it with you.
In May, my best friend and fellow teacher Julie invited me to go with her on a field trip she had planned for her English students. Our field trip was to San Marino to tour the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. I had actually gone once before, but going with Julie was a whole new experience.
First, I have to point out that Julie is an award-winning teacher. She works miracles with students that otherwise are failing. For example, Julie can take English Language Learners, who have never had any success in school and by the time state testing rolls around they are scoring in the proficient range. Not only does she work magic with her students, they all love her so very much. For example when her students graduate from high school, they often request Julie's presence. Julie is a rare breed in our profession because of the impact she makes on her students.
Our day started with Julie and I meeting before school. During that time, I watched Julie (the pro-planner) make final arrangements for the trip. The cafeteria had packed lunches for everyone, including the five parents that were joining the field trip. We all had a group of students to manage. Nametags were ready. Lists were made and off we went.
The groups were also teams, which would be competing to see who knew the most information about the Huntington. The drive took about 30 minutes, so an activity for the students was genius! Turns out the class had been studying the history of the gardens and library for a month. When we left everyone was sitting with his or her team on the bus ready for competition. I was amazed at how quiet the students were. When Julie stood to speak, they immediately listened. (And if you have ever ridden on a bus with students, you know this is not the norm). Soon the competition started and so began my education of the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens.
Just in case you aren't familiar: The Huntington is a private nonprofit institution. Henry E Huntington, a brilliant businessman who built a financial territory that included railroad companies, utilities, and real estate holdings in Southern California in 1919.
Huntington had special interest in books, art and gardens. During his lifetime, he accumulated one of the finest research libraries in the world, established a excellent art collection, and created botanical gardens with plants from an earthly range spanning the globe.
The Botanical Gardens covers 120 acres, with more than a dozen specialized gardens and has a park-like landscape. They are all incredibly amazing but the Desert Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden and the Chinese Gardens are astonishing! The camellia collection is one of the largest in the country. There are a total of 12 gardens and 15,000 different plant varieties. Other important botanical attractions include the Subtropical, Herb, Jungle and Palm Gardens.
On this particular day there were forty gardeners, a curatorial staff of seven and many volunteers who maintained the collections, providing educational programs for visitors and propagating plants that are often included in sales.
I was amazed at how interested the students were. Many students were curious and asking very good questions and were highly interested in the plants and the history of the gardens. The guides all seem to have something interesting to contribute besides the history.
After the tour, we all met and had our lunch together. Later, the students were able to roam with one rule; "Go with your friends but stay in vision of your leader at all times." I was amazed as Julie and I walked together talking and visiting, that our students were running here and there but still adhering to Julie's rule. We could see them off in a distance, darting between trees and they certainly were tracking us. Needles to say, at the designated time, all were on the bus, happy, tired and ready to return to school.
As the students exited the bus, each stopped to tell Julie how much they loved the field trip and thanked her for taking them. I could tell by the students' expressions they truly had a lovely time. The Huntington Gardens, the students and my dear friend Julie all together made for a blessed day. If you ever are in the Southern California area, a stop at the Huntington Gardens, in San Marino is a must.