The Long Trip

History of the Long Trip

Creating ‘Contacts More Real’: Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s Long Trips

When speaking to a group of teacher educators, Lucy Sprague Mitchell (1941) posed two questions: “What can we do to enlarge the groups to which student teachers belong?” and “What can we do to enlarge the groups to which their future school children will belong?” She believed the Long Trip offered an opportunity to move beyond “merely knowing about” people to actually “knowing them.”

In essence, the Long Trip grew from the aims and curriculum of the Bank Street teacher education program, with its focus on the total development of the teacher as well as the child. Based on Deweyan beliefs in education through experience and the social-political aims of education, the Long Trip reflected what Lucy Sprague Mitchell believed was important for teachers: studying children and the world in which children grew—as it was and as it might be.

So each spring, from 1935-1951, excluding the years of World War II when the trips were suspended, Mitchell led the entire class of approximately twenty-five to thirty-five student teachers, all traveling together by bus over a thousand miles, to areas of the country dramatically different from New York City. These week to ten-day trips placed the student teachers in a position to confront directly social and political issues of their day—the labor movement, poverty, conservation, government intervention programs, race relations—all the while considering the lives of children and their families, and the educational implications of what they experienced.

Mitchell (1946) was convinced that “learning that comes from first-hand experience has a smiting quality…” With the optimism characteristic of the progressives, she believed that empathy, caring, and commitment would grow from seeing the world from another’s eye. With the hindsight of over half a century, across years of work and family life, many of the students who attended the Long Trips have confirmed her belief.

– Written by faculty member Sal Vascellaro, GSE ’75

Timeline of Past Trips


2021: Virtual Long Trip

2020 took many things away but it has also provided us with a chance to slow down and find new means of connecting. The 2021 Long Trip will seek to do just this. We will take time to virtually revisit communities that we have connected with in recent years, to hear how they are managing and adapting during these difficult times. We will meet with our friends at the Bogg Center, the Penn Center, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, among many others, to ask how this moment has shaped them.

2020: Cancelled due to Covid-19

2019: St. Helena Island, Savannah, and Charleston

2018: Selma and Montgomery, Alabama

Long Trip: 2018

The Long Trip to Alabama’s Black Belt, as all Long Trips do, drew to light the power of individual life stories. The trip also offered insight into the deep wounds that are sustained when we privilege the stories of one group and suppress those of another. During our stay in Selma we spoke to men and women that had served as youth activists during the Civil Rights Movement of the l960s. In Montgomery we visited the Equal Justice Initiative and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

2017: Detroit, Michigan

We heard many stories of hardship in Detroit, but every account of oppression was met by a story of a neighbor helping a neighbor, an activist speaking truth, an engineer devising ingenious solutions, and people rising up. In these acts of kindness, ingenuity and resilience we saw a kind of humanity that we should all aspire to.

2016: Glasgow & Edinburgh, Scotland

We chose Scotland to see other models of Forest Schools where young children spend most of the school day in the forest. At the Secret Gardens forest school, children’s interaction with nature is at the core of the curriculum. At the Mindstretchers forest school, the school’s philosophy is “inside,outside and beyond” with “beyond” representing the nearby forest where children experience “nature on nature’s terms.”

2015: Copenhagen, Denmark

The focus for this Long Trip was to visit a forest school. With Caroline McKenna as our guide, we navigated the city using local transportation and a lot of walking. The forest school we visited began as a summer camp 157 years ago. Funded by the government, the Forest school has 66 children, a building for a variety of activities, and a nearby forest.

2013: Panama City, Panama

 We saw the Panama Canal in action and learned about the people and the cultures in this country. Our city tour revealed a thriving city with numerous gleaming skyscrapers and evident wealth juxtaposed with older, cramped, decaying buildings: ”two different transformation realities!”

2012: Havana, Cuba

We saw exceptional arts in education programs and made valuable connections with the Cuban people. We stayed in Hotel National which, through its photographs, showed the early influence of and link to the United States.

2011: Seattle, Washington

This Long Trip focused on the cultural connections and community involvement among First Nation peoples and Asian Americans, including their preservation, challenges, and community engagement. We were fortunate to have as our driver and tour guide a famous American Indian artist, Andrew Morrison, whose works were displayed at The Daybreak Star Cultural Center, the meeting place for all native peoples. From storyteller Roger Fernandes, we learned that the Duwamish is Seattle’s native group with 29 recognized tribes in the state. We heard many Native American stories including creation, salmon, and trickster stories, “all representing the world in which we live” and learned that Seattle was named after an Indian Chief. On our visit to the Lummi Youth Academy, a dorm, school, and drug treatment center for youth, we lunched with youth and staff and heard the struggles and successes of this amazing self-help program. A current movement is around tribes taking control of education. “Salmon brings life to us!”

2010: Patzcuaro, Mexico

We studied the arts, culture, and ceremonies of a historic and beautiful city and its indigenous peoples and communities. We visited the pyramids at Tzintzuntzan, archeological site and capital of the ancient empire of the Purepechans and toured the two lakeside communities of Tocuaro and Jaracuaro, where we met experienced mask makers and hat makers. At the Posada Yolihuani, our inn, we watched and discussed the film El Systimo with Conductor Abreau, who used music to change poor children’s lives. We also learned about using local herbs as home remedies and experienced the incredible Procession de Silencio, a long march of the faithful, shoeless, and solemn holding lit candles as they march from one church to another.

Earlier Trips

  • 2009: New Orleans, Louisiana

    We learned about the social, racial, and environmental injustices in New Orleans and the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina on the African American, Huoma, and Vietnamese communities. We experienced outrage over the juvenile justice abuses but were inspired by the advocacy work of the Juvenile Justice Project to challenge the legal system. At Cafe Reconcile, a non-profit group doing good work for poor citizens, we enjoyed a special lunch prepared by disadvantaged African American youth. During this trip, we were thrilled to meet so many community activists focused on changing unfair systems and rebuilding communities. We previewed a film on rebuilding New Orleans, which sadly showed the deliberate bureaucratic barriers facing poor communities. We also previewed a film on rebuilding New Orleans, which sadly showed the deliberate bureaucratic barriers facing poor communities. However, two universities played important roles in the rebuilding efforts and we had the opportunity to listen to Dillard University faculty about the amazing results of using sunflower seeds to remove toxins from the soil. This trip offered our group very powerful learnings and we had the chance to enjoy wonderful cuisine (beignets!) and a jazz performance at Preservation Hall.

  • 2007: Reykjavik, Iceland

    Thermal pools! The Blue Lagoon! Glaciers and Geysers! Thinguellir where two continents meet! The Kerid volcanic crater! The magnificent Gulfoss waterfall!

    There was so much to learn and understand about Iceland. The terrain was unfamiliar with different vegetation and the lack of trees; however, all roundabouts on the highway used stones as art in their centers. Rocks everywhere were covered by brown or lime green moss. We learned that Iceland is a volcanic island, so the soil doesn’t hold trees. We explored Iceland’s history and culture through the captivating exhibit of medieval manuscripts, Eddas, and Sagas displayed in The Culture House. We learned about preschool education from the Department of Education and visited four play schools. We observed that teachers trust the children to work by themselves and play is valued. At the University, Hronn Palmadottir discussed teacher preparation and early childhood education and the influence of John Dewey on curriculum. In response to a question regarding whether children play outside during bad weather, a teacher told us, “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing!”

  • 2006: Charleston and Morgantown, West Virginia

    Our group revisited the first Long Trip in 1935 to Arthurdale, a New Deal Resettlement community for miners, and learned much about the impact of mountaintop removal on the community. Bill Price, Sierra Club organizer, informed us about the work being accomplished by his organization as well as by the local residents in preserving the mountains and creating a healthier environment. A side trip to environmentally polluted Cheshire, Ohio, introduced us to families suffering from massive pollution from the American Electric Power, the devaluing of their homes, and the company’s legal maneuvering to avoid compliance.

    In West Virginia, we met with several community groups fighting against mountaintop removal and its disastrous effect on the people and on one school. We saw the total devastation of the awesome Kayford Mountains, a sad and somber scene. In Mingo county, coal sludge waste had seeped into drinking water, causing numerous illnesses within families. We entered the Beckley mine and marveled that workers, often cheated and mistreated, survived in the dark and damp environment. We also understood that in addition to their beauty, the mountains are the pharmacies for local residents who also collect food items like ramps and plants for home remedies. We listened to stories, heard ballads and participated in mountain style dancing. Then we traveled to Morgantown for our visit to Arthurdale, the New Deal Settlement community and the school for which Bank Street founder Lucy Sprague Mitchell was consultant, and Scott’s Run, a very poor and rundown community from which the original families for Arthurdale were selected. No black miners were selected for the new housing.

  • 2005: Knoxville & Nashville, Tennessee

    This Long Trip focused on civil rights and social and environmental justice. We visited Maryville College, which was founded in 1819 on the premise that all people could and should be educated. This ended in 1901 when state laws forbade mixing the races. We next visited the Highlander Center known for its focus on popular education, labor, civil rights, environmental justice, immigration issues, and empowering people for action. Our next stops were the Black Cultural Center at the University of Tennessee College of Law, the Norris Dam that provides cheap electricity and flood control for the region, and Alex Haley farm with its ark-shaped chapel designed by Maya Lin. On to Clinton, the site of the first (peaceful) march in school desegregation. In Nashville, we visited the Belle Meade Plantation famous for breeding thoroughbred horses, learned much about the 60s civil rights activities and key individuals like Septima Clark, and sat at the recreated lunch counter in the Civil Rights Room, an impressive space in the Nashville Public Library where we also watched a powerful film on the civil rights movement.