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My Turn, Shonda Hairston: The value of personal experience

A picture is worth a thousand words is a commonly heard adage  If that is true, what do you think a personal experience is worth? If you ask the parents and staff at Knollwood Elementary School, you probably will hear “priceless.”

If you ask the students at Knollwood, they may not be able to tell you what is worth, but they will certainly smile as they reminiscence about the exposure and experiences they have been given. There is no price tag to attach to the feelings, emotions and learning that these expeditions afford our students.

Students will share about learning to fish, camping or zip-lining for the first time, walking across the Swinging Bridge, wading in the sound at the Outer Banks or being at the top of the Empire State Building and looking out at a sea of tall buildings.

As a renewal school in the Rowan-Salisbury district, we have been granted the freedom and flexibility to provide our students with opportunities to enhance their learning and their lives. As a school, we review our curriculum and brainstorm places and experiences that will make the standards come alive, connect the world with our students and our students to the world. These learning expeditions have allowed us to not only make curricular connections but to make life connections.

I believe that while our kids may be small, the opportunities we have to broaden their worlds are large. Students need exposure to different learning experiences within and outside the school setting. My teachers and I often find ourselves at a loss of words to describe how these expeditions are transforming learning and lives, but we know that they are planting seeds of possibilities that empower and equip students to discover their own pathways.

Our final expedition of the 2018-19 school year was to New York City, where students, staff and parents visited iconic places and monuments, connected with history, were in awe of the vastness and whirlwind of the city, and deepened and established relationships with each other.

As we listened to the closing song, “A Whole New World,” of the Broadway musical “Aladdin,” we recognized that it embodied our ultimate goal for our students: a world exists beyond their classroom, their school and their state.

Shonda Hairston is principal of Knollwood Elementary School.

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