Teaching in rural Mississippi has many challenges, and one of them is the Exposure Gap. The town that I teach in is just over an hour from Memphis, 2+ from Jackson and Little Rock and over 6 from the coast. Some may call the town that I work in even “big” when compared to some of the closer towns of 500-1000. However, some of my students have never been to Walmart, eaten out, or gone to any festivals or had many other experiences that kids in urban areas may have.
A week ago we took the PreK-1st grade students on a field trip to the Memphis Zoo. Many of the students had never been that far away from home, to Tennessee or to a big city before. Leading up to the the field trip during guided reading, we were reading books about the zoo. On of my students, T, was not able to name the animals in the book (elephant, giraffe, hippo, lion) and after reading the book told me, “Mi’ Ball — I think I’m going to stay home from the zoo.” I asked him why, and this was his response “Well, I’m afraid that the animal will get me and have me for lunch!” No concepts of how the animals live, and the fact that we were not going on some wild safari.
After assuring him that there would in fact not be any animals chasing him or trying to eat him for lunch, we created a class KWL chart for things that we wanted to discover about the zoo and off we went.
As soon as we pulled off the interstate the students immediately noticed all the fields (which they see everyday) but were even more excited because many of them had farmers planting their crops for the season. This led to many questions about there being dogs, cats, horses and cows at the zoo. (No, babies — sorry!)
As we got closer we announced that we had crossed over into Tennessee and they let out a loud uproar. As we got closer to the zoo the students started to notice the large number of buildings, semis (such a fun game for them to get the drivers to honk the horn) and the fact that some buses just didn’t look like school busses (these are for public transportation, baby!) The kids were elated at seeing the different colleges that were on our route especially since the week before I was able to take 2 of my kids to Ole Miss for a Spanish presentation — both of which will now be a part of the Ole Miss class of 2028 (just ask them).
We had many parents accompany us to the zoo, 14 from my class alone, which was a huge help with 100+ students under the age of 8. I was able to make sure that the students that had never been to the zoo were with my assistant or I because I wanted to make sure they were able to see so much, and get so much out of the zoo. The highlight was definitely the dinosaurs, which scared a lot of my kids (who knew they were going to move, squirt water and make such loud noises!) but then we were able to check out the zoo some more, even though we were only there for 2 hours. During this time we were able to see some many animals, including the polar bear come swimming up to the glass we were standing at and the kids were so excited that they could see the polar bear both above and below the water.
One of my students that was paired with a parent was even able to feed the giraffes! What an amazing experience for her! She was talking about it for days.. especially how that giraffe has a “sticky black tongue” and it “licked me!” She was thrilled.
I wish that I was able to give my students more things to be exposed to, but with tight constraints on budget, time and resources, it just is not possible. We have started virtual field trips at my school in which we visit other countries through power points, short movies and stories from some of us that have studied abroad. This world has so many beautiful things that I want these kids to be able to see and do, I just wish that I was able to give them those opportunities. In a small way though I am, through giving them an education and just exposing them to what I can while they are in my class.