8th Graders Go East!

For the past ten years, each June, 8th grade history teacher, Kevin Fales, boards a charter bus with Jenison 8th graders to venture to the east coast to bring history to life, but to teach students so much more!

During his second year of teaching, Mr Fales was invited to join East Kentwood Middle School on their own East Coast Trip to get a feel for the experience and consider running a similar trip for Jenison. Now the trip averages 125 students each year and, along with twelve to fifteen school employees serving as chaperones, the trip is a mainstay for the 8th grade class.

This year, the 130 students will board the bus on Thursday, June 15 and head for their first stop: Niagara Falls. For most of the students, this will be their first experience outside of Michigan, let alone, outside of the country! The stop in Niagara Falls not only breaks up a long day of driving, but it allows students to begin to have their eyes opened to the wide world outside of West Michigan.

Day two finds the group in Boston visiting Fenway Park, Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, and take a ride on the infamous Duck Tour where they will ride the “duck truck” into the Charles River. Of course, the group will also visit historic sites throughout the city, along the Freedom Trail.

From Boston, the students will travel to New York City and play the role of tourists and visit Central Park, Times Square, and Rockefeller Plaza. The next day they will visit the 9/11 Memorial, ride a double-decker bus around the city to learn history and fun facts and wrap up their time in the city with a boat ride on “The Beast” which will take them past the Statue of Liberty.

After their two-day whirlwind of NYC, the group will journey to Philadelphia to visit Constitution CenterIndependence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both signed. “We’re standing in the room where George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were all in.” They will also visit Thomas Jefferson’s apartment where he wrote the Declaration of Independence. To end their time in Philly, they will channel their inner-Rocky by running the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

On the way home, the group will stop at Gettysburg and receive a guided tour of the field and experience the Cyclorama, a painting created in the late 1880s which measures 377 feet in circumstance and 42 feet high** and immerses the viewer in the battle itself.

The final stop on the way home is Hershey Park to enjoy the amusement park and celebrate the end of their trip.

Mr Fales says that there are multiple goals for the students: it’s an opportunity to leave home, to build relationships with fellow students, and to connect what they’ve learned in class to real-life history. “As they are getting ready to go to the high school, it’s time to learn for themselves, the trip provides a chance for self-discovery, learning to advocate for themselves and grow up a little bit.”

Thank you, Mr Fales and chaperones, for planning this trip each year and giving your time and energy for ensure our students have the best possible learning experience! Students, soak up every aspect of this experience and feel the wind beneath your newly spread wings!

*Photo courtesy of RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation
**Courtesy of the Gettysburg Foundation

Junior High East Coast Trip a Success!

Mr. Fales holds Jenison’s answer to the famous “I (heart) NY” shirts found throughout Manhattan. Students wore these to be easily spotted while in the city.

I think we’d all agree that reading about something in a book can open our minds to history and truth, just as seeing pictures on a page can convey lessons not easily captured in words.

But actually walking the cobblestone streets of Philadelphia once traversed by Benjamin Franklin or strolling through Minute Men National Park is a different kind of education entirely.

The past that was once trapped in a 2D reality suddenly leaps from being merely a textbook concept and becomes surprisingly real:

Battlefields in Gettysburg become more than grass and dirt and shadows; they are now the hallowed grounds that cradle the souls of so many.

Fenway Park becomes more than a collection of bleachers. In fact, it still echoes with the crack of Dick Radatz’ bat.

The 9/11 Memorial in New York City is a silent capsule amidst honking taxis and the clamor of life in Manhattan. It becomes more than a symbol. It is sacred.

This June, 107 Jenison Junior High students stepped through time by joining the annual East Coast Trip organized by Mr. Kevin Fales. This group, JJHS’ largest in their five years of traveling, boarded three motorcoaches on June 8 and dove headlong into a seven-day trek that would take them to places such as:

  • Niagara Falls
  • Minute Men National Park
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Fenway Park
  • New York City (Times Square, Central Park, Rockefeller Center)
  • Philadelphia (Nat’l Constitution Center, Independence Hall, Liberty Bell)
  • Gettysburg (including an evening Ghost Walk)
  • Hershey Park

Mr. Fales shared that it’s “…a cool experience to be able to take kids to the historical places that we’ve been studying all year; to actually be able to see the Declaration of Independence or walk the grounds at Gettysburg is so awesome.”

Students on the trip pay a flat fee to Countryside Tours which covers the cost of the entire trip, all hotels, and all food (except for two meals). Students are left to cover only the souvenirs they may wish to purchase.

Of course the trip can’t be quantified as easily as assigning a price tag and discussing details like hotels and food. To the kids on the buses that drove East, there were moments and memories that won’t register on an itinerary or be reflected in a price tag, like when a student looked at Mr. Fales (while in Canada) and said,

“I can’t believe I am in another country; I have never left Michigan.”


Those are the moments when eyes are opened and lives are changed.


Hearts bloom and school is never the same again.

Students at Niagara Falls (all trip photo courtesy of Mr. Fales)

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Thank you to Mr. Kevin Fales for his hours of dedicated planning and for spearheading this wonderful trip! We’re proud to have Jenison represented in some of our nation’s more historic locations!