Since da Vinci Primary’s doors opened during the 1998-1999 school year, students here have had the exceptional opportunity to travel on a plethora of field trips from visiting Washington, D.C., Chicago and Canada, to exhausting local hotspots right here in our own hometown of Jackson, Michigan.Intensive Learning at da Vinci takes place during the last three weeks of the school year where teachers pair with another leveled classroom and generate hands-on units focused on history, science, health or have themes where students create end products that display the skills they’ve learned. All learning in the class is interactive and during this time students are afforded the opportunity to take part in many off campus field trips.

Despite having a high population of students who receive free/reduced lunch, teachers have worked tirelessly to keep costs of these trips low and also fundraising with students to make larger field trips a reality. Teacher, PTO and principal organized fundraisers, such as candy bar sales, rummage sales, school stores, bake sales, spaghetti nights, pop bottle drives, coffee sales, candle sales, jewelry sales, retail coupon booklet sales and much more have helped allocate the funds for these trips. Level 4’s trips tend to cost the most and teachers in younger levels are cognizant of this, as they plan for free or low-cost options as much as possible.

We would like to highlight some specifics on what Intensive Learning looks like at different learning levels in our school. Two da Vinci students who have experienced these intensive learning trips personally are reporting about levels 2-3 below.

Our youngest da Vinci students are excited about getting involved in the community. At the young ages of 5-8 years old, students learn the importance of caring for our community and its people. “da Vinci Kids Care” has been the theme for Intensive Learning where students take time to make blankets and pillows for our local Aware Shelter, physically clean-up our school grounds and local parks, and learn how to better care for our Earth by visiting planetariums and being involved in those presentations. The cost of Intensive Learning in Level 1 ranges from $30-$50.

Another common theme for our Level 1 “friends” as teacher Ms. Shelby O’Neal refers to students is “Around the World.” Students also experience the Olympics and study countries and create oral and written reports based on what they’ve learned. Some favorite trips in this theme are to a Lansing Lugnuts (semi-pro baseball) game, visiting the YMCA and having a sleepover at school with their teachers! Ms. Shelby thinks Intensive Learning is “the epitome of our school. Seeing my students build relationships between other classrooms and the community through seeing it, feeling it, smelling it and giving back is who we are. I can’t imagine not doing our project-based, hands-on learning.”

Level 4 student, Izzy Tolsma reports: Level 2’s intensives focus primarily on Michigan. Themes from the past include, “My Michigan”, “Made in Michigan”, and this year’s theme pinpoints Michigan’s history. The intensives’ costs are generally low, ranging from about $30-$50 per person. The money is used to fund trips to various museums, factories, etc., depending on the theme.

When I was in Level 2 I distinctly remember trips to the Jiffy factory, the Chrysler Museum and a department store. The trips put a fun, interactive spin on learning that also offered tours that explained the inner workings of the different places. This ties in well with the thoughts of Ms. Shannon Tinkle, a Level 2 teacher, “(I like) taking kids places they may not ever go on their own. I want kids to see ‘behind the scenes’-the process behind things.” Certainly, Intensive Learning creates memories and leaves a lasting knowledge of the key topic: Michigan.

Level 4 student, Autumn Porter reports: Level 3 Intensives tend to focus on health, economics and history. Last year’s Intensive was enjoyed by the whole school as after an intense economics unit, Level 3 opened up a healthy food restaurant, titled the Hula Hut. Students were responsible for setting the menu items, pricing, making food, seating customers, serving food, and using their very own Hula Hut currency. Some grant money was used to help offset the cost of this intensive.

In year’s past, when I was in Level 3 the topic was health and fitness and countries of the world. Our health and fitness intensives were focused on creating a week long healthy eating and exercise plan for ourselves as well as developing a routine that demonstrated a complete workout or fitness program like dance, Pilates, yoga, etc. The cost of this intensive was also free! I also remember doing a study of countries while in Level 3. Our class joined with the other Level 3 class and we split into 7-9 groups. Each group was assigned a certain country to research, mine was India. We researched the country’s religions, holidays, sports, art, languages and modern day activities to fulfill our projects. Ms. Gena Cochran, one of da Vinci’s level 3 teachers says, “I always try to choose material that will grab kids differently but still addresses the standards.”

This year Level 3 students are in store for a real treat! They will have an art and history focus and they will create their own art and history portfolio as their culminating project after visiting and experiencing some authentic art at local museums. The cost of this year’s trips is only $20.00.

Younger students look up to the oldest students who are afforded the coveted opportunity to attend the “big trips.” It has become a “rite of passage,” as Level 4 teachers alternate the culminating trips between going to Washington, D.C. for a history/government theme one year, and the next going to Cedar Point for the science focus. Being that these trips are the biggest, they do cost the most ranging from $150-550.00. But, as you would expect, students spend a great deal of time fundraising throughout the school year.

As a level 4 teacher, I have had the distinct privilege of taking two trips to Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, VA and Mt. Vernon with students who were both well-behaved and grateful. Another Washington, D.C. trip is planned for this May-June! When I taught in levels 2-3, we traveled to Colonial Williamsburg, VA and Chicago. These trips have proven to bring life-long memories of fun and learning to students, chaperones and parents alike. High school students often return for visits and reminisce on their time at the Primary school through yearbooks and picture books. They forever remember their Intensive Learning experiences. We like to see what’s out there, that’s for sure! da Vinci staff and students alike enjoy immersing ourselves in Intensive Learning. We don’t just go along for the ride, we ARE the ride.