Onaway School Kids Take to the Rails
Julie McGovern Voyzey
Picture this: You are boarding the Rapid for your daily commute. You settle in, pop on your headphones, shuffle through your playlist, and begin scanning your email. The train pulls into the Onaway Road station and 90 third graders board your train. Disaster? No. Delightful? Absolutely, because Onaway School’s third graders are seasoned Rapid riders.
Thanks to three adventurous (maybe slightly crazy) third grade teachers, using the public transportation in their own backyard is standard operating field-trip procedure for their lucky students. Teacher Jim Sweeney says that once the other passengers get over their surprise at the crush of kids, “they start talking to them, asking where they are going and what they are learning about. It is great.”
The teachers at Onaway – Sweeney, Martin McGuan, and Bradley Gillette – made lemons out of lemonade when belt-tightening reduced bus transportation for treasured field trips. Anchored by a commitment to get kids out of the classroom, and in full embrace of the International Baccalaureate (IB) philosophy of learning by actively engaging in the world, these teachers tapped the assets around them to preserve and expand field trip opportunities.
What a gold mine they hit. The Rapid and public bus system connecting Shaker Heights to the riches of downtown Cleveland
and even points east presented an array of field trip possibilities they hadn’t even considered before.
Earlier this spring, the fearless threesome and their 90 young charges headed out to the Rapid station – this time the
South Park station on the Green Line – clutching pre-purchased all-day fare cards. They boarded the Rapid and set off on a downtown adventure to study the design and materials used in Cleveland’s spectacular buildings and monuments.
The trip was part of their IB Unit, How We Express Ourselves. The learning for the field trip began even earlier in the year with the two different IB Units, How We Organize Ourselves, which includes transportation as a theme, and Where We are in Place
and Time, which examines how communities change over time. In both units students studied the role of the Rapid in the development of Shaker Heights. On field-trip day, as they walked the short distance from school to the nearby stop, they experienced firsthand how a well-planned community provides easy access to public transportation.
Using public transportation to go downtown is not a one-time, single-destination event for Onaway students. Herds of happy kids have visited Lakeview Cemetery by way of public bus, and the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals via the Rapid. Lest the students think the Rapid only goes west, they also headed eastbound to the Green Road station where they transferred to a bus to visit the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood.
“So many kids have never taken the Rapid or the bus. These trips help kids realize there are many ways to get around” says McGuan. “Public transportation is a green mode of transport and it is a resource within our own community.”
“And, we are being risk-takers,” notes Gillette with a big smile, in reference to one of the key IB learner profiles whereby students are encouraged to tackle “unfamiliar situations and uncertainty with courage and forethought, and have the independence of spirit to explore new roles, ideas and strategies.”
Equally important, he says the Rapid is all about helping kids make connections between Shaker Heights and Cleveland; this is their ticket to a bigger world.
Originally published in Shaker Life, June-July 2013