By Josh Raymer
Campers might eat, sleep, and study on the campus of Western Kentucky University for three weeks during VAMPY, but that doesn’t mean their learning experiences are limited to the school grounds. Classes like Pop Culture, Humanities, and STEAM Labs take field trips during VAMPY in order to tackle their subject matter in ways they couldn’t inside a classroom.
Pop Culture teacher Justin Mitchell wanted to bring his students’ research to life during a field trip to Washington D.C. and the National Museum of American History. “Students can relate to pop culture,” he said. “It’s an even playing field. When you talk about the 1899 book ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,’ even if they haven’t read it, people can give you some of the political conversations that were going on during that time period, so you connect it that way. It’s history come to life.”
For the first week of class, each student chose to research of the hundred or so objects in the American Stories exhibit, a collection of items including Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” Apolo Ohno’s skates, and a video camera that captured footage of the 9/11 attacks. Once there, each student delivered a report while standing in front of that object. Onlookers even stopped to applaud the students for their impressive depth of knowledge.
Ella Franklin of Lexington, who researched an art deco necklace and bracelet by Paul Flato, found the trip to be a gratifying experience. “It made our research real,” she said. “For almost a full week we’ve been researching this one object. To go there and actually see it, it’s exciting and a fulfillment of that work.” Her classmate Sam Vitale, who studied an 1880s Winchester rifle belonging to Sioux Chief Low Dog, echoed her sentiment. “It let us learn outside the classroom,” he said. “While you enjoy learning in the classroom, getting out into the real world and learning is an enriching experience.”
While Pop Culture focused on history, Tracy Inman’s Humanities class explored spirituality and the afterlife during a trip to the Parthenon and the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple in Nashville. “My goal for the field trips is expansion of thinking,” she said. “I want them to think about things in ways they never have before.”
For the Parthenon – the only non-religious destination the class will visit during VAMPY – Tracy wanted her students to explore the art, architecture, and mythology behind the famous structure. Annie Miller was floored by the attention to detail. “When you look down a row of columns, at the end, the negative space forms a vase,” she described. “They were so focused on the details. Even the negative space was something beautiful.” Peter Guthrie also admired the culture that birthed such an impressive building. “How advanced the Greeks were with their mathematics, engineering, and architecture was really fascinating,” he said.
The other stop in Nashville was more closely tied to the class theme of the afterlife. “With the Hindu temple, I want them to understand that it is not a polytheistic religion like most of them think it is,” Tracy explained. “I was amazed at how much tolerance they had, the questions they asked, and how they kept their minds open.”
This kind of misconception happens when students don’t study other religions in school. Peter admitted that his exposure to religious study had always been Western-focused, and when he studied Hinduism in AP World History last school year, it was history-based with the spirituality aspect removed. Visiting the temple definitely expanded his thinking. “Experiencing firsthand the religion and spirituality, learning about meditation and Brahman, it was very interesting,” he explained.
Annie also gained valuable insight into an unfamiliar religion. “Growing up in the Bible Belt, it’s all about the Christian church, the Catholic church, and the different denominations,” she posited. “It’s nothing outside of Christianity that I’ve ever experienced. Getting to go to a Hindu temple, it was just like any other church you’ve ever been to. It makes the world a whole lot smaller.”
The STEAM Labs class co-taught by Madison Moore and Jennifer Cribbs only needed to travel across town to have an eye-opening experience. During a trip on Wednesday to the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, campers learned what goes into making the iconic automobile. “We saw quality control, which we study in class,” Madison said. “They tested the Corvettes with vigorous road tests and dumped gallons of water on them. They saw a Corvette being tested and it failed!”
Tanay Neotia loved seeing classroom concepts demonstrated in a real-world environment. “There isn’t a car plant on Western’s campus,” he said. “It’s nice to go out and see how they make cars in real plants. In class, we learn about how they’re made, but there’s a big difference when you see it and not just hear about it.” Hannah Westphal saw a glimpse into her future if she becomes an engineer. “It shows you what it would be like to be an engineer,” she said. “We saw all the different types of engineers they had there working together to build something people use every day.”
Whether they intended it or not, Madison and her co-teacher Dr. Jennifer Cribbs infused fun with learning by visiting the plant. “It was fun watching the cars roll off the line – it’s Corvette!” Tanay exclaimed. “It’s a special car. We saw it from the aluminum frame to the finished product rolling off the assembly line.” Hannah was enthralled by the logistics of the plant as well. “It’s really cool how they fit it all into that one space where it overlaps but still works how it’s supposed to,” she said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in one space!”
For all the learning that takes place during VAMPY field trips, one theme that kept resurfacing with campers was how it brought them all closer together. “We had a lot of fun staying up for 18 hours,” Ella said of the trip to D.C. “It brings people together. It’s nice to go on a trip as a group and bond somewhere new.” Sam enjoyed the bus ride home. “It was fun because we were all together and had a chance to talk,” he said.
Field trips don’t just deepen the bond between campers, but also between campers and their teaching assistants. After a day spent in Nashville, Annie cherished the time she got with her classmates and TA Olivia Jacobs. “Our TA was in the van and we could have conversations about our home high schools and our TA could join in,” Annie said. “It was a good bonding experience for us as a class because we could learn more about each other and have fun joking around.”