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Is Going to a Cemetery a Valuable Field Trip Experience?

My only memories of cemeteries are ones associated with death and sadness.  When my grandparents passed away, I attended the burial services in tears.  Thinking back on those moments even now is emotional for me.  When I think of a cemetery, pictures of death, flowers, and tears form in my mind.  For places created to remember and pay homage to our deceased community members, they sure do evoke a lot of negative thoughts.  Why?  As teachers, can we change that for our students?

Today during Humanities class, we ventured off campus for another community place-based writing experience.  We took the boys to the Canaan Street Cemetery, which is across the street from one of our previous field trip locations, the Old North Church.  We provided the students with a bit of history regarding the place and discussed the purpose of cemeteries for a community.  The students had some insightful ideas on why communities build cemeteries.  Prior to departing for our field trip we talked about cemetery etiquette with the students.  We want them to understand how to behave in a cemetery but also to understand our expectations for today’s class.  The boys then wandered about the cemetery making observations and noticings.  They were careful not to step on areas where bodies may be buried.  They were also very careful with the volume of their voices.  The boys were serious yet engaged, thus, making our discussions fruitful and open.  The boys shared personal experiences regarding cemeteries and also discussed cemeteries in the regions from which they come.  One student from China told me that children under the age of 15 are not allowed to be in a cemetery or graveyard unless they are visiting a funeral or family plot.  He had never been to a cemetery before because of that law.  I found this so interesting.  I wonder why this is the case.  I feel so fortunate to be at a school which allows me to learn much about other cultures.  Another student shared how in the southern United States, mausoleums are used to naturally cremate bodies because of the intense heat created within them.  Wow, what a creative way to use the natural resources produced in an area.  On some days I feel very selfish because I seem to learn more from my students than they do from me.  We also talked about the type of rocks used for gravestones and costs associated with cemeteries.  Hopefully, the students learned about why communities build cemeteries and their place in a community.

The students also had the opportunity to complete some place-based writing using the cemetery as inspiration.  While a few wrote about their thoughts and observations, some of the boys began fiction stories set in a cemetery.  They seemed to enjoy today’s writing experience as they had learned a lot and gained some new ideas.  I was impressed with their ability to stay focused and respect the place in which we were.  Today was just another example of how mature and thoughtful our sixth grade class is when the bar is held high.  We expect great things from them and so they act with brilliance and compassion.  I can’t wait until we go on our first overnight class trip to the CORE House this weekend.  It is sure to be a rewarding experience filled with joy and learning.

While a cemetery is simply a burial place for dead bodies, it taught us a lot about life and our part in it.  So, although we associate cemeteries with death and sadness, we hope that today’s experience taught our students that cemeteries are so much more than just places we go when someone we know dies.  Cemeteries are places to go when learning about a community and its inhabitants.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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