Field trips extend history lessons beyond the classroom

Rolla High School’s Social Studies Department has a history of taking curious students on enriching field trips. Every year, interested students travel across the state and beyond to hear from critical sources on vast social studies topics, see historic memorabilia and visit key places. These trips are offered once or twice a year, and most accompany a class taught at RHS. These trips, teachers hope, will help create a better picture for students learning about social science.

Michael Ellis, RHS social studies teacher, leads many of the department’s current field trips. In AP Government & Politics, a year long class for juniors and seniors, Ellis invites students to visit Jefferson City.

“I take them to hear oral arguments in front of the Missouri Supreme Court. We then go over to the Capitol, and they give us a tour of the Capitol in Jeff City. Then we go and have lunch, and…tour the old prison up in Jeff City, and get an ice cream cone and head home,” said Ellis.

Chiefly, Ellis wishes for students on this trip to see the applications of the judicial system. 

“I want them to learn how the court system operates and functions in Missouri, what the three different levels of courts are that are in Missouri, where, if they’re unhappy with a court decision in Missouri, what the next steps they could legally take, and understand how the whole appellate process works,” said Ellis.

In the course World War II – Vietnam, taught by Ellis and available for all grade levels, students can augment their learning by visiting the Holocaust Museum in Chesterfield, Missouri. 

“[Students will] have a guided tour… they actually have a survivor who comes in and speaks to the kids at the end of the tour and shares their personal story,” Ellis said.

History teachers Travis Curtis, Amanda Jarrett, and James Rinehart will lead their annual trip to Vicksburg, Mississippi for students to tour the historic city.

“Our trip to Vicksburg is four days in the spring… We tour the Vicksburg National Military Park, which is basically the site of the civil war battle and siege to happen in the town of Vicksburg. We also take the kids to see a couple of museums and to see a historic haunted house there as well,” Rinehart said. 

This trip does not follow a class, but rather, students with high grades and no behavior problems are invited by their social studies teachers. Due to COVID-19, some field trips were stunted.

“We were going to do a trip to DC the year COVID hit here, but we canceled it because of COVID… we haven’t attempted another one,” said Ellis. 

This year, Rinehart will take students to Vicksburg for the first time since 2019.

“My good friend and mentor Dave Croft started this trip with the Rolla Junior High freshmen over twenty-five years ago…we had continued that every year until COVID stopped it for three years…This will be our first year back and we’re really looking forward to it,” said Rinehart. 

The history teachers have traditionally invited only freshman students to go on the trip.

“Since the trip’s returned, we’re taking this year the original group that was supposed to go as freshmen…And of course, it’s a little more difficult for older kids to commit to a trip like this because of commitments…so we lost a little under half of those kids, and this year we’ve replaced them with kids that we think fit that mold from the junior and sophomore classes,” said Rinehart.

David Croft is a former history teacher who taught at Rolla Junior High School for over two decades who also led the now-defunct eight-day trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania every other summer for freshman students.

“[The Gettysburg trip] has fallen by the wayside,” said Rinehart.

Above all, the RHS Social Studies Department aims to instill a fuller understanding of history and social science by exploring tangible places and relics.

“As a historian, you get a real feel for those events, and that’s something that I hope to try to have the kids experience as well,” said Rinehart.

“It’s like anything in life. You can talk about it, you can read a book about it, you can watch a movie about it, but until you actually go there and experience it, you haven’t gotten the full educational experience,” said Ellis.