Fairfax students explore the state capitol and zoo

Sierra Green, Tamya Wallace, Austin Gallagher and Lelynd Chapman at the zoo.

On March 2, Fairfax Elementary School’s fourth-graders arrived at school more than an hour before the first bell to board a charter bus bound for Columbus.

By late morning, 40 students from three classrooms, plus eight chaperones, arrived at the Ohio State House. The group went on a 90-minute tour of the capitol building, marveling at the height of the ceiling in the famed rotunda and admiring the 1857 painting “The Battle of Lake Erie.”

Students were officially recognized when they visited the senate chambers, an event entered into the state ledger, forever immortalizing their visit.

They had the opportunity to meet with Janine Boyd, their local representative, who claimed the meeting was the “highlight of her day.” She encouraged the children to work hard in school, ask questions, and pay attention to current events so that one day they, too, might serve in the Ohio legislature.

The group then braved the wind and snow to walk to Ohio’s Supreme Court building, where they learned about its architecture and how the judicial system works. As part of the social studies curriculum—understanding the work of each governmental branch—students participated in a mock trial taking on the roles of judge, jury, defendant, plaintiff, opposing attorneys and bailiff.

Students were particularly enthusiastic in their answer to a question about which branch is the most important: “None of them! They’re equally important!”

Teacher Eric Cohen had applied for and received a grant from the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Education Center Foundation, which helped cover part of the transportation cost and admission to the legislature and court buildings. Students paid $10 for the extended-day field trip, and the PTA provided full scholarships, as needed.

Cohen wanted to make the most of their time in Columbus, because a return trip was unlikely, so he arranged for the students to visit the Columbus Zoo. Arriving in late afternoon, in a light snow shower, students found the zoo nearly abandoned, creating an almost magical experience.

Most groups headed for indoor spaces, visiting the aquarium where they observed seals and manatees. This was particularly exciting for those students who had studied manatees earlier in the year for a report on endangered animals.

Another group headed in the opposite direction where they saw wild animals, including bears, moose, cougars, elephants, rhinos and tigers. Sierra Green said this was the best part of the day: “I did a report on the red panda and then I got to see a real one. Plus you could see how endangered each animal was. The tiger was the most endangered. That made me sad.”

Yet, the overall mood of the trip was a positive one. Teacher Nancy MacDonald declared it the best field trip she’d ever been on: “We saw so many things that we’d been studying in class—from the branches of government to the Revolutionary War to endangered species. It really connected our learning to the real world.”

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, is a former district teacher and a freelance journalist under contract with the CH-UH City School District. A longer version of this story appeared at www.chuh.org.

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Volume 10, Issue 4, Posted 6:14 PM, 03.30.2017