How one teacher is saving the time-honored tradition of field trips

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HANOVER, Va. -- Grace Phillips and her mom Nicole cherish memories of their trip to Washington D.C. The pair visited the top landmarks, but their D.C. experience was unlike many others thanks to their tour guide with a twist.

Mr. Randy Wright relishes the written word. He breathes life into the Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address and “I have a dream” speech. Documents he says are as alive today as the day they were written.

“We go deep into students when they see the words come to life and we know it’s making a difference,” Wright says.

He's been teaching civics for the past 24 years, at Liberty Middle School.

He shares his passion with students across central Virginia Through his Teaching Tours. He founded the non-profit when he noticed school districts began curtailing field trips from their curriculums after 9/11 and the recession.

“Well, I looked at the situation and said, ‘Well, I’ll do it myself,’” Wright said.

Elementary and middle school students visit the Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt and King Memorials.

“Children need to share common cultural moments and they need to share something together,” says Wright. “This is experiential learning. Its hands on and kids need this.”

“Standing there in the presence of all of that is really touching and inspiring and something you don’t see every day,” says Nicole Phillips, who accompanied her daughter during a recent Teaching Tour trip last winter.

For Grace, a student at Liberty Middle School, Mr. Wright’s enthusiasm for civics is infectious.

“I think having him for a teacher is an experience all by itself,” says Grace. “He really does love America and what he teaches about and that adds to the energy in the classroom so.”

Mr. Wright believes children learn the deeper meaning of what it is to be an American by having students recite the words written so long ago at the monuments dedicated to the people who penned them.

“Those monuments are gigantic and so are the words,” says Wright. “When the kids put the words to the people and look at them for the first time they have an experience; a cultural experience.”

“You see the words on the wall that you’ve learned and you look at and I know that and then it clicks and it’s really important,” says Phillips.

At the end of the day-long tour Mr. Wright introduces the students to the campus of the University of Mary Washington.

Wright hopes the campus tour ignites a life-long passion for higher learning.

“It is amazing when you see the spark in their eyes when you know they’ve caught on or they see it and it makes a difference,” says Wright. “You know you’ve touched their heart and mind and possibly their soul.

A lesson both Grace Phillips and her mother Nicole give an A-Plus.

“It is not just about the documents and not just the history,” says Nicole. “It is about the future. He thinks that these kids have amazing potential and he is constantly sharing that with them.”

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