Field trips are probably the most memorable learning experiences possible for our students, as they get to experience learning in the real world and, of course, leave school. If you live in the Midwest and are looking for a destination for a field trip, Chicago makes a great day or weekend trip. Keep reading to find out why Chicago is a great place to bring Spanish learners and how to plan a Spanish class field trip with your students.
A Capstone Experience
This trip has been the capstone Senior Year experience for our Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program. We have tried to make it something that students will look forward to starting as freshman and a celebration of all their hard work. Many of these students have been in the DLI program since Kindergarten and having a pre-graduation event that they are counting on builds program identity.
For some students going to Chicago is a really big deal. Despite living in Wisconsin, for a number of students, this is their first time visiting Chicago (and sometimes the first time leaving the state). If students have previously been to Chicago this trip is a chance to see the city from a new perspective.
Planning and Fundraising
First, I have to give credit to my colleague who did all the groundwork and planning for the first few years before I became a chaperone. Planning a new trip for the first time is always overwhelming: Will the students want to go? Is the itinerary interesting? Will there be time to eat? Fortunately, each year that a trip runs it becomes a bit more polished and this year was very smooth.
We have experimented going to Chicago on both a school day and a Saturday. A Saturday means an extra day of work for teachers, but then students don’t miss other classes and we don’t need to pay for subs, which is a significant amount of money. Field trips out of state or overnight usually require extra permissions or extra chaperones, so make sure to plan far in advance.
There is no way around it, this trip is an expensive one. Paying for coach buses costs more, as does going on certain days or dates near the end of the school year when buses are in high demand. Theater tickets are also expensive. We have raised money through bake sales, teacher and family donations through sites like Donors Choose, educational grants, and community donations. It’s true that longer day trips and overnight trips require more planning and money, but they are also more fun and educational for students and in the end I believe it’s worth the extra work.
The National Museum of Mexican Art
Our first stop is the National Museum of Mexican Art. The museum is free to enter (yay!). Guided tours are also free, and available in English, Spanish or bilingually. Our group took a guided tour and our guide was a young guy that our high school students could really relate to who did an excellent job of talking about pieces that students would be interested in. The tour left us wanting to see more instead of swearing off museums for the next few months, which I admit has happened to me after a few drier art museum tours. The museum has over 10,000 pieces from hand crafts to traditional paintings and even a souped up lawn mower!
One of the most interesting exhibits was the “Art as a political act” area. There were some really powerful pieces here, and viewing these would make a great culminating activity for an art or immigration unit.
Exploring the Pilsen Neighborhood
After visiting the museum, students had free time for lunch at one of the neighborhood eateries or food carts. In the past we had done a walking tour of Pilsen, but students weren’t very engaged. This year they were given a map with places to walk by to see the murals and other important buildings, but most students opted to enjoy a longer lunch. Maybe next year we can do a group scavenger hunt to get them interacting with the neighborhood a bit more. If you want to learn more about the Pilsen neighborhood and things to see there, check out my blog post here.
Downtown Chicago and Millennium Park
You can’t visit Chicago without visiting the downtown and Millennium Park. Fortunately, this is quite close to Pilsen. The North side of Millennium Park is a good spot to drop off students and the park has clear boundaries that make it easy to keep students from getting lost. Students love to take photos with “The Bean” a giant metal sculpture that looks vaguely like its name. There are often festivals and special events here in the summer, so you may have the added bonus of catching some great music.
If you do a weekend trip there are lots of other places in the The Loop, or downtown area, that are worth a visit. If you haven’t had your fill of Art, The Art Institute is world-renowned and has works by Picasso, Dalí, Diego Rivera, and even an Aztec coronation stone from Tenochtitlan. Navy Pier is an iconic Chicago spot with amusement park rides, cruise boats and shopping that is always popular with kids.
Chicago is well-known for its theatre options, and we have been fortunate to find a show each year that is either in Spanish or in English about Latino characters or culture. There are a number of theatrical groups that run this type of programing, including Teatro Vista. In the fall the city hosts the Chicago International Latino Theater Festival with options from many countries.
Last year we saw La Havana Madrid and it was a big hit! It told the stories of the people who had been touched by their time at the Havana Madrid dance club and the impact the club had had on the Latino community in Chicago. It was also possible to see a matinee, which was cheaper and could get us back to Wisconsin at a reasonable hour.
If you don’t have a large enough group of students to just take Spanish classes or clubs, think about combining with other World Language or Social Studies classes. Between the international museums and restaurants, plus other ethnic neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Italy, Chicago has something for students learning just about anything.
Finally, for any Boricuas reading this, Humbolt Park is home to a sizable Puerto Rican community and the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. It’s on my list to see on my next trip to Chicago! 😉
Do you have any other Chicago suggestions? I’d love to hear your comments below!