Best Field Trip Ever!

By Josh Golding, Wood’s Homes School Support Counsellor.

“Best Field Trip Ever!”  

That was what the boys were shouting while we rode the giant cheese wagon back to the school. The full-size school bus for 5 students and 4 adults was the icing on the cake for the first field trip that our Starting Points (partnership program between CSSD and Woods Homes) class – or any Starting Points class – had ever taken. Of course, the kids all sat at the very back. 

At the start of the school year, there was a pretty negative vibe in our classroom. The students, grades 3-6, who all have social and emotional challenges that make it hard for them to be successful in a regular classroom, had some pretty toxic relational patterns. There was a lot of swearing, bickering, insulting, gossiping, “tattling,” and even the odd fistfight. “Divide and conquer” was one of our initial strategies, as we encouraged those who were now able to integrate into their regular ed classes.  

But “divide and conquer” is a pretty lame long-term strategy, as it doesn’t help the students build the skills they need to form lasting and healthy relationships, or the confidence they need to learn how to read, write, or stick with challenging tasks. So, we set up some positive reward systems for kind actions and words, did a significant amount of “replacement swear word” coaching, and provided a lot of teaching and reflection opportunities about how to create the kind of positive environment that each of the students undoubtedly wanted to create for themselves (but didn’t know how).  

And it worked.  

Well, we also spent an enormous amount of energy on other things, like rigging their environments so they could avoid triggers, helping them build friendships with other students in the school, showing them how capable they actually are at learning things, and building solid relationships and communication with their parents. Now, 6 months later, there is a very different, more positive vibe in the classroom, and in each of our student’s presentations. 

So, we thought we would try something that had never been tried before in our environment: we would take them on a field trip.  

It feels like a small thing, you know. A field trip. Something most kids just… get to experience. But many of our students hadn’t successfully been on one. And some of their families can’t afford to take them places that cost money.  

We picked one of my great loves: climbing; because passion elicits passion, right? We took them to a truly world-class gym: Calgary Climbing Centre, Rocky Mountain location. The 65-foot walls and sheer size of the facility belie the accessibility of the Climbpark, which is perfectly set up for groups like ours.  

I won’t lie: it felt like there was a lot of pressure riding on the trip to be successful. We may have over-staffed it.  

But it was so worth it! This was evident in myriad ways: 

The grade 6 student who has been in a behavior program of one sort or another since kindergarten. At the beginning of this school year, he attended zero integration (“regular” class) and did no academics. Now, I had to pry him away from his class (begging his teacher for forgiveness), which he attends 95% of the day. He wants to be in the military. This was an amazing opportunity for him to conquer some of his fears and challenge himself. As of this writing, he still hasn’t taken off his wristband, and is currently strutting confidently around the school. 

The grade 3 & 5 students who expressed significant fear of heights on the bus ride over. They went on to tenaciously attack every challenge they tried. Numerous times I watched them and thought they were going to fall or give up. But they didn’t.  

The positive comments from the other grade 6 student as the others tackled new challenges or different routes, and his encouragement to get better times on the speed wall. The other grade 3 student who got back on the wall after scraping his back (nothing a hug couldn’t fix) and went on to buy snacks for other students who hadn’t brought any money.  

And nothing beats the picture I took of them all on the bus ride home, still smiling while yelling: 

“Best Field Trip Ever!”