A Lesson Outside of the Classroom: A Visit to Whitney Plantation with Abramson Sci Academy Class of 2018
A transformative and powerful experience all because one teacher shared hers…
I had the pleasure of joining my colleagues and seven senior students on a tour of Whitney Plantation, located in Wallace, LA in St. John the Baptist Parish.
I’m glad I was able to learn about this hidden gem.
I’m thankful, this trip was brought to fruition all because ASA, senior English IV teacher, Ms. Neal shared her experience with her group of senior scholars and sought support from a few staff (Ms. Fontenot and Ms. Omosefe) with ensuring the students could get there.
As CBS News states in an interview with the historical site’ owner, John Cummings,
“About an hour’s drive from New Orleans, along the Mississippi River, sits a Civil War-era sugar cane plantation, the first museum in America dedicated entirely to slavery. The Whitney Plantation looms as a stark reminder: Our nation was built on the backs of slaves.”
The students who were moved by her experience inquired about how they too could visit the historical Whitney Plantation and hopefully embark on an encounter with their history unlike what is covered in their schools’ history books.
And that is just what happened.
Ms. Neal has a way of doing this often. Often effortlessly, which is important as a first-year educator in a field that we know is no stranger to burnout. .
Ms. Neal wanted to make this trip happen for those who wanted to experience it, but as we know, not much in life is free, so after taking care of the admission costs, Ms. Neal sent a warm text reaching out to a few to help fund the students’ breakfast and lunch to remove the burden of families paying the costs themselves with other senior budget commitments. Exhibiting teamwork and consideration as she often does.
The experience of being black in America is a topic of wrapped up in various emotions.
Not everyone feels pleasure in speaking on it, so I see a lot of avoidance for protective measures. An opportunity to share this journey with individuals of my likeness is an opportunity I was unwilling to pass.
I personally was amazed at the insight that was shared after Ms. Neal suggested we all pause and debrief before leaving the site and driving an hour back into the city for lunch.
I appreciated this; their words gave me so much hope for their futures.
As high school educators, we are tasked with providing intervention to band-aid the wounds and often deficits from grade school while ensuring they are adequately prepared for life after high-school. We get frantically wrapped up in GPAs, ACT scores, and college acceptance letters which are all important determinants in future pathways, but sometimes, looking beyond these benchmarks can indicate just how ready for the world our kids truly are because insight and discernment can’t be quantified.
I watched these teens get choked up in their words and emotions, while explicitly naming they had been positively overwhelmed by the imagery and narratives illustrated by the tour guide.
Some of the students’ reflective statements I left with were:
“I’m glad that I was able to come out here!”
“This was my first time ever being able to do something like this.”
“They weren’t willing to do this everyday. They HAD to, to stay alive. I was just very overwhelmed.”
“I’m leaving with a stronger sense of pride.
We need to understand that the people walking in America right now, we need to understand that we are descendants of the strongest of the strong. People who made it through that hardship. People who made it through stuff that was unbearable. So I feel we should walk with our heads held high, no matter how tough life gets because we are descendants of people who were strong despite tough times.”
“I’m excited to come on this trip because I was able to learn a lot more than I even knew about my history!”
“I could FEEL the presence of our ancestors around me.
Nowadays, we make a lot of “moments”. We watch Roots, you know, we watch these programs, but that’s a moment. What I experienced today, was just what I said. It was an experience, something I’m going to cherish and hold on to for the rest of my life. Something I can tell my kids about. I think the greatest power we can have, especially, me as a young black man, is knowledge. So by Ms. Neal taking me to experience things like this, allowing me to soak up that knowledge, that’s something money can’t buy, I’m so grateful for that alone.”
As tour guide Mr. Ali said during our final stop during the tour as a stark reminder:
“If we invest in good family structure and education, it pays off.”
Thank you Ms. Neal.