ROAD TRIP! The Importance of Learning Outside of the Classroom

At Randolph Academy, we believe it’s important for our students to engage with the community. Part of our goal in teaching young people with emotional and behavioral disabilities is to prepare them to have rewarding careers and fulfilling adult lives – which means they need to get out of the classroom from time to time!

We do this in many ways, from simple excursions to movie theaters and bowling alleys, to traditional field trips to places like Explore & More Museum and The Buffalo Zoo. We also look for opportunities to conduct deeper, service-learning initiatives that combine classroom learning with volunteering, to teach our students the importance of giving back to their community.

We always try to tie our field trips in to topics our kids have recently learned. For example, our science teachers have taken high schoolers to fish hatcheries and the Buffalo Museum of Science, while our health and phys. ed. teachers have led overnight camping trips to Allegany State Park.

We also take them to area businesses like the world-famous Eden Kazoo Factory, so they can see different types of work environments and learn the skills needed to succeed in different careers.

Sometimes, we take them places so they can experience something brand new — knowing that many of our students have never ventured more than a few miles from their homes. It’s priceless to see the looks on a sixth grader’s face as she feels Lake Erie’s sand and waves for the first time, or when he sees pets his first horse.

We’ve also traveled to Niagara Falls, where students rode The Maid of the Mist and toured the Cave of the Winds while marveling at nature’s power and beauty.

“Some of our students rode their first elevator and went through their first turnstiles that day,” recalls elementary teacher Janet Jesonowski. “Every single field trip results in something I’ll never forget. It’s unbelievable to see their faces.”

It’s those expressions that inspired Mrs. Jesonowski to create a service learning partnership between the Hamburg Campus and the SPCA Serving Erie County in 2019. She was heavily involved in animal rescue personally and began noticing the connection the animals had with children in need.

“I felt like this would really help some of our kids,” she explained. “Even the most rambunctious kids would stop in their tracks and act completely differently.”

So she decided to reach out the SPCA — and it turns out they were looking for schools to pilot a new in-service teaching program. The timing was perfect.

Members of their staff came to our Hamburg campus and tailored their talking points to the full spectrum of academic grades. For our elementary students, they taught them things like basic animal care and how to approach a dog. To our middle schoolers, they talked about animal nutrition and the adoption process, while our high schools learned about “heavier” topics, such as preventing animal abuse and types of animal activism.

We knew the program would conclude with a trip to the SPCA — so we decided to ‘up the ante” and add a month-long donation element to the project. Together our students raised, gathered and delivered more than 1,300 contributed items, including food, toys, supplies and materials for the many animals awaiting adoption to their new “forever” homes. It also became a point of pride for our students, who talked about how they earned their donations, or the shopping trips they went on with their families.

We were even able to stay connected with the SPAC during the pandemic via links on their YouTube channel where some of their animals and people are featured. We’re also setting-up some virtual pet visits this fall.

“Animals often teach us more about being kind to each other than people do,” Mrs. Jesonowski added. “The kids just got so much out of it. The positive behavior they exhibited during our SPCA visits was immediately noticeable. Many of our students benefit from calm environments like the SPCA’s, which was therapeutic for our students, too.”

On the Randolph campus, we conduct similar service learning initiatives, especially with our Cosmetology students. Each year they visit area nursing homes and perform manicures and various styling techniques on residents while engaging them in conversation. Many students develop real bonds with these seniors, and our alumni often share that those memories are some of their favorites. The bottom-line is, no matter the age, we all learn better by being exposed to different environments and new things. We’re proud to instill in our students a love for the variety of places and experiences Western New York has to offer — and just as proud to show Western New York all that our students have to offer!