At Wildwood the classroom often extends beyond four walls. Throughout the year, students make guided trips off-campus through our outdoor education program in which they encounter experiences that enhance their perspectives and expand their zones of comfort.
This week I joined a group of Division Two students for an imaginative “urban scavenger hunt.” We were looking for the oldest Angeleno we could find with a story to tell from the last century, a building where we could take a photo with a bird’s eye view, and a way to bestow a random act of kindness without using money. We split into small groups and began our hunt at the Los Angeles State Historical Park, site of an indigenous Tongva settlement and LA’s first transcontinental railroad depot, at the edge of Chinatown. We then walked through Chinatown and finally made our way downtown. All of these places are close to home, but in many ways far from familiar.
Our guides from Fulcrum Adventures, a Santa Monica-based team building company, which helps Wildwood run its outdoor education program, give each small group a few initial tasks. My group, made up of students from Lauren Sekula’s advisory included 7th Graders Dylan M., Arly S., and Maci Z., along with 8th Graders Finn G., Nati K., and Sophie L. We come up with a team name, a team cheer, and made a team flag, which one of us had to carry throughout the day. We dubbed ourselves “Team Honey Boo Boo Child” (Ok, I’ll admit, I had to look up the pop culture reference afterward) and set out on our adventure—heading south into Los Angeles’s 140 year-old Chinatown.
Chinatown proved to be fertile ground, both for our scavenger hunt and as an enriching cultural experience. Our team explored the myriad markets selling traditional Chinese medicines and foods, and Finn G. helped our cause by completing Challenge #21 when he helped a shopkeeper display her merchandise on a high rack that was out of her reach. 10 points for us, and a job well done by one of our team members. Dylan M. takes the initiative on Challenge #1 by approaching pedestrians on Broadway. Language barriers kept him from getting an L.A. story from the older residents in Chinatown but he did get a brief conversation and an age from one woman—86 years old!
Walking south on Broadway, across the 101 Freeway, we entered downtown, a part of Los Angeles that few in my group have visited much. Our lunch destination is the colorful and cacophonous Grand Central Market on 3rd Street between Broadway and Hill. Our Fulcrum guide, Myles, described the market to the students as a food court, so I was prepared for how surprised these Wildwood students were when they entered the vast market to find row after row of vendors hawking fresh seafood and noodles, along with taquerias and pupuserias. The students settled on pizza with smoothies. Sometimes, comfort food hits the spot.
With our time running out until our scheduled return to home base back at the park, we set off in quest of Challenge #3. Our initial goal was to get to the 72-floor US Bank Tower. Realizing it’s too far away, we chose the nearest tall building, the 52-story Gas Company Tower at 5th St. and Grand Ave. But, we were thwarted. It turned out that the Gas Company Tower doesn’t allow public visitors. We head back out on to the street, our camera empty of the evidence we need to tick this one off the list. To get back to home base on time, we needed to take the bus. Our guide, Myles, helped us find the route —Metro bus #794—and we hopped aboard, arriving back at the LA State Historical Park just in time.
Once the entire Wildwood contingent converged again, we had a chance to reflect on our day. But more importantly, each group shared what they learned, about L.A. and each other. The Fulcrum staff tallied each group’s points to determine a scavenger hunt winner. Zach Menzer, Wildwood’s Assistant Middle and Upper School Director, who coordinates Wildwood’s outdoor education program, tells me afterward—“Some kids are motivated by the competition, but ultimately, the collaborative skills are the main takeaways.”
My teammates shared the most important parts of their adventure. Eighth grader Sophie L. summed it up. “We didn’t care if we won. What mattered was that we got to know each other better as we worked together.” And 7th grader, Maci Z., shared her proudest memory. “We walked past a homeless man on the sidewalk, and even though it wasn’t one of our challenges, I saw Finn G. walk back to him and give him some change. Talk about some classy ‘Service to the Common Good’!”
A day trip like this to downtown is packed with a wealth of experiences that can’t be replicated in the classroom. There’s spontaneity and contact with the people and the places that students often merely think about, but with which students today had the opportunity to authentically engage. And it’s a reminder that all of these varied and interesting places aren’t a world away—they are right here at home, in L.A.
~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning