#StreetsR4Families: A Transit Oriented Field Trip

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Last week, I had the opportunity to join three dozen first graders on their second “transit oriented field trip” of the year. From a Westside public school down the trip went to the California Science Center in Exposition Park. The kids walked just over a mile to a Metro Expo Line station before riding the line east to the Exposition Park/USC stop. Later in the day, we repeated the trip in reverse.

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Everyone was on a day pass, and it provided a free souvenir.

Last week, I had the opportunity to join three dozen first graders on their second “transit oriented field trip” of the year. From a Westside public school down the trip went to the California Science Center in Exposition Park. The kids walked just over a mile to a Metro Expo Line station before riding the line east to the Exposition Park/USC stop. Later in the day, we repeated the trip in reverse.

“We decided at the start of the year that we were going to use transit for our field trips,” explains one first grade teacher. “It’s important.”

About a half-mile in, the kids were getting tired. Not even a CicLAvia sign cheered them.
About a half-mile in, the kids were getting tired. Not even a CicLAvia sign cheered them.

True, for many students in Los Angeles and throughout the world, riding a train, bus or both is just a part of the daily commute. But, for some of the kids on this trip, it was their first time on the Expo Line. For others, it was their first on any sort of train. Thanks to an earlier field trip that relied on the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, it was not the first transit trip for any of the students.

For the students and the adult chaperones there may have been more of a lesson on the ease of riding Expo than there was learning science lessons. We only had an hour and a half in the museum. Between the mile walk to and from the station, the waiting for a train (of course our train had to be late) and the ride itself, we spent twice as much time traveling as we did inside the museum.

If you ever find yourself thinking of planning a transit-oriented field trip, we assembled these tips to help you get started.

  1. Talk to your transit agency ahead of time. Having all the TAP cards we needed ahead of time made everything much easier then it would have been otherwise. Metro also offered to have a member of their outreach team meet us at the station, which we declined, but, beyond just basic logistics, there are other benefits of being in touch with the agency you are riding.
  2. Make sure you know the transit level of the students. We may have over-prepared for this with a dozen adults for three dozen students. But with kids that young and in some cases inexperienced we wanted to have as much adult coverage as possible.
  3. Plan your trip and stick to it. The teachers had everything timed out to the minute. When our train was late arriving, we had trouble keeping the first graders occupied in a way that was appropriate. Some “read the newspaper” that was left on a seat causing quite a bit of cleanup. Others performed a sit-in and lie-in protest of transit conditions. Or they just laid down and complained. Newsflash: little kids don’t like to wait around.
  4. Know the weather. We were blessed with sun. If it were cloudy or god-forbid raining, the walk would have been a different experience. A weather check, and a system to remind parents about weather-appropriate dress, can be the difference between a learning experience and a LEARNING EXPERIENCE.
  5. Talk about the trip ahead of time. A lot of kids, especially perhaps kids that live in West L.A., don’t expect to have to work for their transportation, as they are too often whisked from one place to another. Setting expectations ahead of time about walking and waiting headed off any unnecessary complaining from the kids.
  6. Don’t over plan the students’ time in transit. A lot of parent/teacher guides for field trips encourage adults to have things planned to not “waste” students’ time in transit. “I don’t believe in kids sitting on the bus or subway and doing nothing,” one “expert” shares.  We took a different approach, encouraging students to talk to each other, observe what’s going on around them, and follow the trip on the map of stops. Learning isn’t confined to what one can do inside of a text book or journal.

These tips are particular to field trips designed for students to experience transit as a part of the trip. If you’re looking for more generic instructions, there are plenty of places on the Internet that have tips.

(Note : The names of students, teachers, and even the school have been omitted to provide some small level of anonymity for the kids. All kids pictured are with their parents’ permission.)

And before the museum, recess!
And before the museum, recess!
  • calwatch

    Did the Nextbus work? That, and especially the live map, can be helpful in planning for wait time, especially somewhere in the middle of the route where trains are moving.

  • Yes. The VMS signs on the platform told us the train wasn’t coming.

  • davistrain

    This account brings to mind Lenore Skenazy’s book “Free Range Kids” and asks, “Now that the children know something about the transit system, when will they be considered old enough to ride the bus or train by themselves?” My brother and I were 8 and 10 when we started riding the Pacific Electric train to meet our dad when he got off work.

  • AB3

    That’s an issue we’ve been considering in my household. With an 8-year-old attending a transit-friendly school, my thinking is that we may wait a couple more years, and I like the idea of several schoolkids transit-commuting to school together.

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