On Sunday, May 19, Emerson Farm Middle School, accompanied by Mr. Kasnic, Mr. Harris, and Ms. Stanson, embarked on its Adventure Trip to Chicago.  Students have been raising money for this trip all year long.   Here are the chronicles of their days in the City of Broad Shoulders, as written by Mr. Kasnic.  Look out for updates all this week!  

May 19, 2013

En route!

Emerson Farm Middle School students departed BWI Airport headed for Chicago/Midway.  After getting to the gate, we found our flight delayed and took the time to eat and settle in.  It was wonderful to witness the students bonding as they played games and had discussions waiting for our flight to be called.  During the flight it was affirming watching the students help each other through some bouts of nervousness. By the time we landed in Cleveland, all was well and we were sorry to see our flight attendants leave, but the new crew who replaced them were just as welcoming.

The final leg of our flight into Midway was uneventful and many of the students slept. After claiming our baggage we traveled to our hostel, Urban Holiday and all settled in for the night.  We are looking forward to an exciting Monday start for our exploration of Chicago.

May 20, 2013

http://youtu.be/Ft_JVcGXIkI Emerson Farm Middle School Students pass the famous Flat Iron Building – famous as an architectural icon and home of art and artists – in the nerve center of the Wicker Park neighborhood – famous for its status as the hipster hub of Chicago – near their hostel.  Thanks to student M. Wiggin for the video!


“Hipster capital” – Ryan

“The street art here is really cool!”  – Chris

“Zoos are kind of depressing.” – Donovan

Enjoying Chicago’s Street Art.

After a long evening prior, Emerson Farm Middle School students were up early preparing for an exciting day exploring Chicago.  Splitting into two teams in the morning; one group – armed with a shopping list and street map – ventured to the local supermarket to obtain supplies for our Tuesday and Wednesday morning community service breakfast at the Lincoln Park shelter, while a second group set boldly forth throughout the revitalized Wicker Park neighborhood where we are staying in search of original street art.  (A shout out to Ms. Michelle from all of the students!)

Proceeding with their supplies to the Lincoln Park Community Shelter, our grocery group took stock of the facility, meeting the wonderful people who work there to help the less fortunate.  The three students – Hiya, Donovan, Becca – will be team leaders for our work in preparing and serving meals to the forty shelter residents tomorrow morning.

Students under the “el” tracks, where street art abounds.

Recording observations in their journals, all students in our street art expedition found something of worth to note.  Beginning a scrapbook – peeling off and saving quirky stickers and notices plastered on every vertical surface in the area – Chris is creating his own personal memento of the trip.  Observing and interpreting the found street art, Ally diligently recorded her impressions.  In gathering material for his video journal, Meritt climbed back steps and busy decks and searching alleys for the perfect angle to shoot art, individuals, the El and all of the unique sights in this vibrant neighborhood.

Students with Ms. Stanson on the Merry Go Round in Lincoln Park.

After a self-service lunch of sandwiches, we set out as a group for the Lincoln Park Zoo.  Stopping by the Lakeside trail to get in touch with nature, we were within sight of Lake Michigan to the east while the Sears Tower beckoned from the south.  Experiencing nature’s bounty at the zoo, students were able to get a peek at a swan’s clutch of eggs as she stood, peer into the wizened faces of endangered great apes and admire the sinewy predatory saunter of a rare snow leopard.  Seeing such animals in captivity engendered empathy in the students for the plight of these creatures.

Returning to our Urban Holiday Loft base, students organized themselves into groups; preparing, serving and cleaning-up a full dinner for sixteen.  With two very full days under our belts, time in flying by.  Tomorrow we hope to touch the lives of others at the Lincoln Park shelter before visiting the Hull House to encounter the activist spirit of Jane Addams.  Reflecting on our study of “What is Peace?” we find connections abounding.

May 21, 2013

“Fun, hot and entertaining”  – Ayris

“We made breakfast for 15 people, it was fun and worked out well” – Hiya

“The museums were fun” – Sean

Alison preparing breakfast at the shelter.

We had an early wake-up Tuesday morning in preparation for our service opportunity at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter. Before piling into the vans, student leaders (Hiya, Donovan and Becca) divided the class into three teams (preparation, serving and clean-up) briefing them and rehearsing roles to better organize our efforts.

Putting food on plates at the shelter.

While helping those in need, the students were able to put a face on the very real global problems of hunger, shelter and access to healthcare that we studied in Jimmy Carter’s Talking Peace.  Preparing and serving what may be the only meal many of these people ate today provided a tangible example of how one person can make a positive difference in the lives of others.  Taking part in an entire class effort, each student contributed to this worthwhile event.   When returning Wednesday to prepare and serve another breakfast, student teams will rotate responsibilities, ensuring all experience the multitude of opportunities to contribute.  A special note of appreciation for Ayris, who conceived this project and coordinated it prior to our trip.

Hiya, Ayris, and an interactive exhibit.

Proceeding from the shelter we journeyed to he University of Illinois – Chicago campus.  This striking venue is home of the Jane Addams Hull House Museum.  Our late morning arrival fortunately coinciding with the last “Rethinking Soup” series lecture for this term, we leapt at the opportunity to learn.  “Rethinking Soup” allowed us to experience a college level lecture in the same venue which played host to Upton Sinclair, W.E.B. DuBois and Gertrude Stein.  We were treated to a free bowl of asparagus soup – supplemented by bread – while watching a specially edited version of the recent PBS documentary “Soul Food Junkies.”  This exposure to food and fellowship complemented our earlier experience at the shelter.  Our class literally (and figuratively) ate it up.

Torey listens to another Hull House exhibit.

In further exploring the Hull House Museum students explored food insecurity, the challenges immigrants faced in America and the women’s suffrage movement – all complementing our last two cycle guiding questions; “Are all men created equal?” and “What is Peace?” The class was also able to examine historical evidence of the positive results of social activism as pioneered by Jane Addams and extended by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  From listening to a sound exhibit bringing the late 19th century back to life, working a manual sewing machine and reading journals from the poor and dispossessed; our class touched and experienced history.  An exhibit detailing the Hull House Montessori School brought a reminder of home and family.

Students stand in front of the Chicago Skyline on the peninsula of the Chicago Museum Campus, which stretches out into Lake Michigan. 

Following Hull House, our intrepid crew visited the Chicago shoreline of Lake Michigan for lunch.  The expansive lake set the scene by providing a bucolic natural setting for the students while contrasting in the near distance with the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago reaching upwards towards a high Midwestern sky.  Eating sandwiches made by our student teams that morning, our class enjoyed the lakeside beach, fellowship and reflection upon the mornings activities.

Elise pets a ray at the Shedd Aquarium.

With the Shedd Aquarium beckoning, we ventured forth strolling up the marble steps and into a world of unique and exciting creatures and opportunities.  A 4-D experience of polar creatures including; polar bears, sea lions and penguins served as a warm up for an afternoon of wonder.  Viewing nature in carefully designed and presented exhibits, we were transported to the Amazon, Madagascar, the Philippines, the Okavango River Delta and even Australia (where we met a still living lungfish brought to Shedd in 1933).  Experiencing nature in a tactile manner, students visited the “Stingray touch” exhibit where an adventurous many were able to touch and pet the rays. James, Ally and Elise were among our students who attracted the sinuous creatures like magnets.  We ended up closing the museum, bidding a fond adieu to our new beluga whale friends.

Some well-earned exhaustion and Chicago deep dish pizza.

Today’s adventure finished with a genuine slice of Chicago for dinner.  Dining on Chicago Style pizza, students discovered that two slices of this heady delicacy really is a full meal.  Besides this delicious treat for the gourmand, students also used their budgeting and teamwork skills to settle their tables’ tabs – displaying communications, community and math skills independently and with confidence.  Returning to our hostel and bedding down for the night, we anticipate more enthralling explorations tomorrow.

May 22, 2013

“Why did the students cross the road?  To get to the Art Museum”. – Torey

“Dude, you should have seen the arms and armor, the engraving was really detailed!” – Chris

“Sean’s in the shower, he fell into Lake Michigan.” – Elise

Ryan ladles out some oatmeal at the shelter.

Starting the morning with our second community service breakfast at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter, we were up early and on the road.  The students decided to alter the menu for this morning, serving hearty bowls of oatmeal garnished with brown sugar, sausage and bacon complemented by a bowl of yogurt topped by fresh strawberries.  Changing roles from yesterday’s  breakfast, everyone got into the act and all students were able to serve food to the shelter residents; a great way to help others, feel good about oneself and examine in reality the issues we spent the past sixteen weeks exploring in the classroom. Amazing teamwork and fun helped make the experience a rousing success.

Students in front of the Field Museum of Natural History.

Our further Chicago explorations began in earnest with the Field Museum.  Imagining the earth as it grew and humans began to use fire, hunt, gather, develop agriculture, and build cities, we previewed our studies for the fall.  Witnessing how people and mastodons co-existed for a brief time, we experienced the consequences of climate change, the extinction of a species and the handing of the torch of stewardship for the Earth to our species, which provided another preview of our middle school studies for the coming year.  Breaking into pairs, the class roamed the expanse of the Field museum; discovering Maori “whare” homes, scaling the height of the Himalayas to touch Tibetan culture and then traversing continents to Africa, walking the markets of Dakar.   Studying earth science; Hiya, Ally and Elise discovered how gems come into being in nature’s underground forges.

Students having fun while waiting to interact with exhibit at the Adler.

Pausing for lunch, we caught our breath and split into two groups.  The larger group headed for the Adler Planetarium for some hands-on science exploration.  In examining meteorites from Mars and Venus, comparing views from differing telescopes, manipulating scale models of the solar system and considering the problems posed by “space junk,” our adventurers pondered the Earth and its place in the universe.  Donovan held a scale model universe in his hands, pondering its mysteries like a latter day Kepler.

Frolicking near Buckingham Fountain on the way to the Art Institute.

Winding along Lakeshore Drive, through Grant Park and past Buckingham Fountain a smaller band of explorers walked to the Chicago Institute of Art.  Home of Grant Wood’s American Gothic and one of the best collections of Impressionist art in the world, the Institute is a massive venue which dominates the north end of Grant Park and serves as a gateway to downtown Chicago.  Closely studying the film and photography exhibits, Meritt was able to view masterpieces in his medium of interest.  The Immigrant Art section supplemented the learning from our previous day from Hull House Museum, providing Torey with a plethora of images to ponder while adding depth to the concept of life in a burgeoning and growing Chicago a century ago.  Illustrating the importance of creativity and craftsmanship, Chris and James regaled the group with stories of exquisitely detailed arms and armor.

Students study an image of a baby carriage rolling down stairs, stenciled by world-renowned street artist Banksy.

Detouring on the return from the museum campus, Chris and Meritt led a safari seeking an original famous street art composition.  Following clues from an online search, seeking one of Banksy’s Chicago works we departed, heading north.  Using the foursquare application, students guided our van into an industrial district brimming with street art.  After several passes, comparing the angles of the buildings and the skyscrapers in the background, we narrowed our search.  Finally sighting our quarry, our safari dismounted, negotiating an abandoned lot to approach the goal.  Hoisting cameras; Torey, Chris and Meritt completed their successful quest by capturing the moment and then taking time to reflect upon the piece they found and the process of searching for it.

Good food after another long day.

Our class ate a delicious dinner of roasted chicken breast marinated in Italian dressing, rice and salad prepared by Becca, Hiya, Sean, Ally and Ayris.  Ms. Stanson then took an interested group to North Avenue Beach, where Liam frolicked along the beach, Sean had a close encounter with Lake Michigan and everyone enjoyed the cool brisk air as the sun settled into the western sky.  Returning to our hostel, the group joined the entire class in a surprise Ice Cream Sundae dessert to close out our day.

Ms. Stanson, Hiya, and Ally at North Avenue Beach.

May 23, 2013


“Mr Phiiiiiiillllllllll……….!!!!!!”  – Elise – upon recognizing Phil McFarlane, our incoming middle school teacher at Cloud Gate

 “You can NOT scale the outside of that building.” – Hiya, to Elise, upon viewing a particularly well-corniced edifice in downtown Chicago.

 “Do they have curly fries?” – Meritt, viewing the hot dog menu


Our class was fed and ready to depart for the Museum of Science and Industry early this morning.  Taking surface streets through the greater Chicago area, we were fortunate to traverse the Hyde Park neighborhood where President Obama maintains his Illinois residence.  We noticed Secret Service vehicles unobtrusively placed along streets enmazed with security barriers as we traveled to the museum.

Ms. Stanson exploring space from the comfort of the 1 g environment at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Experiencing hands-on science and technology at the museum, the students fanned out to explore in greater depth those subjects most interesting to them.  Among the many compelling exhibits were; studies in human DNA, “space junk” exhibitions which tied directly to yesterday’s experience at the Adler Planetarium as well as linking to the coming year’s ecology studies, a tour of captured German WWII submarine U-505 (subject of the famous movie) and working simulations of weather phenomena such as tsunamis and tornadoes, another link to next year’s studies.


Students walk alongside the Millennium Park amphitheater.

Traveling downtown, we found our next destination – the observation deck at the Willis Tower – closed due to high winds.  Fortunately, our following destination – Buckingham Fountain and Millennium Park – were a five minute walk away.  Taking time to ponder the fountains and surrounding gardens, students paused to experience a more sedate communion with nature.

Mr. Phil McFarlane meets some of his future students.

While surveying the Cloud Gate sculpture, the class was surprised and reinvigorated to encounter Phil McFarlane, our incoming middle school teacher.  (I had been coordinating an encounter and am grateful he was able to fit us into his very hectic schedule.) Greeting Mr. McFarlane with squeals of joy and rapturous smiles, our community quickly welcomed his presence.  Quickly establishing his wonderful rapport with the class, he discussed Chicago, its attractions and environs with the students, as well as having engaging individual discussions with Hiya and Elise, among others.   Guiding the class to the amazing Crown Fountain, he was able to continue dialogue with the class, observing their innate thirst for knowledge while nurturing their nascent inquiries.

Students look on as the Crown Fountain does its thing.

Responding to the class’ curiosity about Chicago Hot Dogs, Mr. McFarlane took us to a local eatery where we could sample the fare.  Torey enjoyed a Chicago hot dog, as did several of his classmates.  These large sausages are festooned with condiments ranging from pickles and cheese to sauerkraut and jalapeno peppers and come on a soft bun with poppy seeds.

Mr. McFarlane & Hiya await delicious Chicago hot dogs.

Returning to our hostel, the class is busy packing as I write this.  Now cleaning rooms in raucous fellowship, preparing to leave Chicago much too soon, but eagerly anticipating their return to Baltimore and loved ones.