Principals Perspective (May 2023) - Rabbi Matthew Bellas
Rabbi Matthew Bellas

The DMV as a “Destination Classroom”

As the saying goes in the business world, “Location, location, location!” CESJDS is so fortunate to find itself uniquely geographically positioned to be able to take advantage of nearby resources that enhance so many elements of our rich and rigorous curriculum. Elementary school students across the country study similar subjects, but living in the DMV, especially the greater Washington D.C area, offers our students in-person access to and deeper understanding of sites and stories that most other children are only able to read about in books. This experience is particularly true of our social studies units in grades 2-5, which focus increasingly on particular periods of American history as the children get older. Whether it is learning about Super Citizens and national landmarks in 2nd grade, Native Americans in 3rd grade, geography and economy in 4th grade, or colonial America and civil rights in 5th grade, there is a plethora of opportunities for engaging, informative, and fun “destination learning” nearby. I thought families might like to know what exciting trips can be anticipated as our students move through the grades at the Lower School. Our social studies field trips for this year have been and will be as follows:

  • 2nd grade: The White House
  • 3rd grade: Museum of the American Indian
  • 4th grade: Georgetown C&O Canal Boat Tour
  • 5th grade: Colonial St. Mary’s City, Mount Vernon, Josiah Henson Museum 

Social studies is not the only discipline that is enhanced by our field trip choices. Science/STEM and Judaic studies are also enriched by our other excursions, most of which allow us to highlight our cross-curricular integrated approach to education:

  • Kindergarten has a trip to Green Meadows Petting Zoo: Our students learn about animals and their names in Hebrew and their characteristics in science, then participate in an in-depth language arts unit about them where they research and write about an animal of their choice.
  • 1st grade travels to Brookside Gardens: After having a year focused on the STEM Crosscutting Concept of patterns, the students visit the gardens to experience nature and patterns within it in person, making observations and reflecting on their experience through writing and art. 
  • The 2nd grade DC Zoo outing combines science and Judaic studies as the students have completed an in-depth study of the creation story in the Torah. They have the opportunity to learn about the living things that were created on days 4 and 5 of the story by seeing them up close and personal at the Zoo.
  • 3rd grade takes a trip to the shofar factory early on in the school year to enhance their learning about Rosh Hashanah and the High Holy Days, taking home a shofar of their own at the end of the trip. 3rd grade also visits the nearby Dino Park for a real archaeological and paleontological experience. The real fossils they dig out of the ground are exciting finds, some of which actually become part of studies and exhibits at the site.

While not an excursion in the DMV region, the 5th Grade Capstone Trip to Philadelphia is the culminating trip that our oldest Lower School students take together with the goals of strengthening their bonds with one another and enriching their learning. This full-day trip contains several elements which vary each year depending on availability of certain sites, but always includes visits to Constitution Hall and the Liberty Bell Museum, and often includes one or more from among the Franklin Institute, the Museum of the American Revolution, the National Museum of American Jewish History, and Mikveh Israel Synagogue (one of the first synagogues in the United States). Of course, the double decker bus tour through the heart of Philadelphia with a stop to run up the “Rocky steps” is always a much enjoyed highlight of the experience.

Looking to the future, with a now well-established Gurim program, we will be assessing opportunities for even our youngest students to add a field trip to their co-curricular program and making sure that all grades 2-5 have at least two field trips on their schedule for the year. These opportunities for experiential learning are among the most memorable for our students and we are fortunate to have such rich opportunities in our location.