General Bank Street News

Bank Street Celebrates Launch of ‘Out of the Classroom and into the World’

Posted by Elisabeth Jakab on November 02, 2011

Sal Vascellaro with his mentor at book launchOn Wednesday, November 16, Bank Street celebrated the recent launch of faculty member Sal Vascellaro's (GS ’75) new book, Out of the Classroom and into the World: Learning from Field Trips, Educating from Experience, and Unlocking the Potential of Our Students and Teachers.

In his book, Vascellaro presents a compelling alternative for moving beyond today’s ineffective “teaching to the test” to create opportunities for real learning for both students and teachers that can reinvigorate America’s classrooms. The book’s driving force is that “education should move the learner outward physically and socially, as well as intellectually.”

The three sections of the book demonstrate the power of venturing beyond the classroom as an essential part of the education of children and teachers: first he follows the work of three New York public school teachers and their students as they “experiment with the world;” then he moves back in time to the work of Bank Street’s founder, Lucy Sprague Mitchell, with graduate students of the 1930s, ‘40s,and 50s, always drawing parallels to the work of teachers today; and he concludes the book with the impact of a four-week summer course based on the graduate students’ current ventures into the city.

Three Teachers

Vascellaro illustrates how three of his former students, now public school teachers, transformed their classrooms through field trip curricula, opening their children’s hearts and minds as they discovered how a suspension bridge works, saw what connected them to the people and places of their neighborhood, and came to understand the ecosystem of a river. And he shows how—in order to pursue these studies in depth—reading, writing, science, mathematics, map and model making, and the arts are seamlessly woven throughout.

Mitchell’s Ventures Outward

As a teacher of children and adults who was profoundly influenced by Mitchell’s work, Vascellaro penetrates this history, makes it accessible to educators, and explores its relevance today. He follows Mitchell venturing out with student teachers on to the streets of NYC, to wholesale markets, railroads, the barges on the river. Back at the college, they eagerly distilled their experiences through discussion, writing, the arts, and map making.

Mitchell felt that to be “real” teachers, her students had to learn about social issues by experiencing how other peopled lived, not as tourists, but as eyewitnesses and participants. Embedded in this view was that teachers had to know and care about the world in which children live and work to make it more just and equitable. To that end, student teachers travelled great distances for what became an annual “Long Trip,” (1935-1951) usually in a school bus with hard wooden seats, to visit coal mines, steel mills, New Deal projects, and other sites of social and cultural significance. Vascellaro shows how these experiences changed the students’ lives as teachers and citizens.

The Four-Week Course

Throughout the book, Vascellaro recounts his own efforts to provide both children and teachers with opportunities to “move outward.” Along with a colleague, Vascellaro devised a four-week course that had them investigate how the Bank Street neighborhood connected to the rest of the city by getting to know the people and learning how the city and organizations work to provide food, services, and housing.

Their trips turned the area into a playground and a laboratory. Students visited the 79th Street Boat Basin, a Caribbean luncheonette, a university construction site, a lumberyard, a second-grade classroom, a bus depot, a recycling plant, a soup kitchen, and a neighborhood development organization.

In each case, back in the classroom, students represented those experiences through narratives, poetry, movement, paintings, murals, detailed models, maps — all of which became sources of lively and passionate discussion.  It was, Vascellaro writes, “what I had hoped for and more.”

Years after his four-week course, Vascellaro contacted many of his former students to ask if it had any effect on their teaching. One student’s comment, which is strikingly similar to the comments of Mitchell’s student’s of the past, sums up how the group felt:

"The course turned the world into an exciting laboratory to explore with an open mind and a sense of responsibility. It encouraged us teachers to help children develop curiosity, creativity, and the courage to work unafraid. It put us on a quest to inspire in students a love of learning that will last a lifetime, just as ours will."

This outcome, says Vascellaro, is “a statement on the enduring power of a pedagogy spearheaded by the progressive movement, of a vision of education that contributes to our understanding of relevance, personal engagement, and community. Ultimately, it is a plea to teacher educators to think differently and take a risk.”