Zoo Atlanta…oh the places we’ll go

As a teacher, I have a love/hate relationship with field trips. I think most teachers would agree that being out of the classroom is a way to engage students in a different way than the norm. I also think they would agree that taking students away from school requires that you are hyper-vigilant and that is exhausting. Imagine taking your own children to, say Disney and trying to keep up with them. Now multiply by 75, then, add hundreds of other kids all around, sprinkle in every kind of animal you can imagine and drop it all in an 85 degree summer day. Meaningful, and fun…but exhausting just by the sheer magnitude of the logistics.
This morning we were to leave at 8:15 for the Atlanta Zoo with our summer school students. We arrived at 8:00 to get them all changed into their bright you-can’t-miss-me-yellow shirts, and slathered in sun screen. One bus arrived. We loaded the first one while waiting for the other, which did not arrive. In case you have forgotten your childhood, I will remind you that school buses do not have air conditioning. When they are sitting in the sun and not moving the temperature rises rapidly…even at 8:45 in the morning. Once a second bus arrived the rest of the students were loaded and all appeared to be well, for about one minute, until the bus driver informed us that we would be sharing this bus with another school for the trip. This information transformed the bus into a hot sardine can, with students sitting three to a seat. Not too bad for the little guys, but my upcoming sixth graders are kids in adult size bodies, so they were not overjoyed at this news. (As an aside here….God bless middle school teachers. Truly. There is a special place in heaven for you all.) Once we overloaded all three buses we were off, an hour late, but on our way.
I have to say that despite the unplanned bus issue and the late departure, it never fails to be fun to take rural kids to the city. An explanation of Spaghetti Junction is always required. At about Clairmont Road, just after Century Center, the kids think they are in downtown. Many of them have never been out of our county, or at the most past Buford. When they see the first couple of “tall” buildings (anything over 3 stories) near each other they think we have arrived. When we actually get into the downtown area they think that the long bridges on 85 are tunnels. They whoop and holler when we go through them raising their hands like they are on a roller coaster. They are amazed at the number of really tall buildings, and the capitol dome is always a hit. I have said many times that we could just ride around and they would be mesmerized, no need to exit the bus at all.
By the time we arrived at the zoo, unloaded at the entrance, waited for our tickets, divided into groups, got through the gate, and had a bathroom/water break it was nearly lunch time. It took a bit longer than the hour and a half that the bus driver expected, and every line is longer when you have a group our size. The original schedule had to be adjusted, so rather tour the zoo for two hours, lunch for half an hour and then finish the zoo, we moved lunch back to just before time to leave…1:45. That gave us approximately 2 hours to see ALL the animals. Like yellow flashes of lightning we descended on each exhibit. Teachers everywhere counting kids as we went in the exhibit and counting again as we hightailed it out. Add to that the fact that there was another sunshine yellow group at the zoo today and we were about fit to be tied. We will all be counting yellow shirts in our sleep tonight, and having nightmares that we got a kid with the WRONG yellow shirt! Fortunately, all the other hundreds of groups had the colors of the rainbow other than yellow.
Thank God for the lower humidity. At the speed we were traveling for our cardio workout it was hot, but there was a good deal of shade and as long as we were in it, the sweat simply absorbed to create darker yellow shirts. This turned out to be a blessing as it distinguished us from the other sunshine group. Another long-line bathroom break and it was lunch time. No dripping sweat occurred until the ½ mile uphill hike to the buses to retrieve the lunches. Thank goodness for napkins in bagged lunches.
At lunch we had a lesson in pan-handling and found out that men in Atlanta that hang out at Grant Park do not have belts to hold their pants up. Therefore, their pants do not stay up. These men also think that a bunch of country talking kids that point when their pants fall off is hilarious. Fortunately, they did not stay around long enough for an encore performance and lunch proceeded without further interruption.
One more hike to the buses and we were again blessed by God who sent us a fourth bus. I only wish he had included some deodorant for our fifth graders with it. At least we got to spread out two to a seat. Another long while sitting on parked buses and we were on our way. Windows down, wind in our hair, we were blowing down the highway, until our tour of an Atlanta traffic jam began. Diesel fumes and sitting still on 85, we got to experience a whole different kind of heat. Did you know that school milk, peanut butter sandwiches, heat, and diesel fumes make a bad combination? And that asking for water when there is none is frustrating to traffic-jam-sick children? Let’s just say, there were some definite disadvantages to running late all day. One of those is parents who are wondering where their kids are at 5:15. Another is no time for bathroom breaks when you arrive back an hour behind schedule. No time to change out of the yellow shirts. (Though that isn’t exactly a disadvantage, since I wash the fifth grade ones each week.) Let me just say it was a very, very long day.
All joking aside, the kids had so much fun. Really they did. They loved the animals and were amazed at most everything we saw. Even with all the hassles that come with any field trip to Atlanta, it is so worth it to see the looks on their faces when their world is expanded. They soak it all in. It gives kids that might not ever get the chance to see the great big world we live in a new view… a way to connect their world to other places, people and animals. There were really no major issues, only a few minor inconveniences…and those were from a teacher’s-eye view. We didn’t lose anybody…all yellow shirts were accounted for. No one got hurt. Those are the two biggies. Everything else is small stuff. We have good kids and as much as I hate to say it, I would do every bit of it again for them. In fact, I will…next Friday. Oh the places we’ll go!

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