OAKHURST – Are you smarter than a 5th grader who knows just about everything there is to know about Yosemite? Students at Oakhurst Elementary School under the guidance of teachers Robin Ward and Michelle Burton are so well-versed in Yosemite facts and fun that they’re prepared to sell the vacation package of a lifetime, if only for the purposes of an ingenious product the kids and teachers have created. It’s called The Yosemite Project.
“The Yosemite Project is a very intensive project where the students are tasked with creating a company and planning a week long vacation in Yosemite National Park.” explains Mrs. Burton, co-leading the project with Mrs. Ward, who began the program last year. “We have been working on this project since January and they were completed at the end of April.”
Students worked on their projects for about 90 minutes each day. Tasked with creating a travel agency, featuring a slogan and brochure, kids chose jobs within the company and began planning their dream trips.
“They had to create the full package and plan everything down to the last detail,” explains Burton. “They had to plan for transportation, lodging, activities, food and travel time. We start with learning how to read a newsletter, and it becomes presenting in front of panel of professionals, convincing them to buy your vacation package.”
Part of the curriculum and adventure was learning about the Park from a historical standpoint. Students had to know where to send prospective clients, and why the location was significant. Equally important from a Park Ranger’s standpoint was safety, wildlife, and geology. From a travel agents perspective they had to recommend places to stay, play and eat, as well as figure the trips out per cost.
“They had to create a budget, itinerary that broke the trip down minute by minute, a description of how each day would look and then they had to do the pitch where they presented their package to the panel of judges with a Prezi in the background to highlight the important parts of their trip.”
Mrs. Burton says the project “has it all,” and kids are required to use their skills in reading, writing, geography, science, social studies and math.
“We covered over 30 Common Core Standards and dabbled in nearly every subject matter during this project. It also teaches them life skills, like teamwork, presenting in front of a group and what it’s like to be in the work force.”
Covering vast amounts of material in a relatively short period of time is challenging, say the teachers. The would-be entrepreneurs had to create their companies and then work together within those companies in order to be successful. That wasn’t always easy.
“We had some groups that really struggled with this, but by the end of the project we had 100% engagement. We had students who usually sit back and passively fail working hard and earning an A, while those who are usually A students also worked really hard. Their learning curve was sharing and helping others to succeed instead of doing all the work by themselves.”
The Yosemite Project is intensive, says Burton, not only for the students, but for the teachers, too.
“It is totally worth it in the end. The students were very successful and we were able to really watch them grow as learners and 100% engagement, which is the best reward. Seeing those students that usually do not try in school, not only trying, but excelling is why I became a teacher, so needless to say this is one of the best things we did all year in my opinion.”
The panel of judges included parents, educators, professionals, and media. In the end, they agreed that each project was worthy of attention, and collectively determind that Green Earth Travel Agency received the highest recommendation, based on number of judges that would purchase their vacation package. As Mrs. Burton and Mrs. Ward point out, though, each of the students is a big winner for having completed the Yosemite Project.
“This is an invaluable experience in which the students are able acquire an educational experience along with life skills. They were all successful academically and really performed above and beyond on this project. Mrs Ward and I could not be more proud of them. They worked hard and should hold their heads up high for working through this incredibly difficult project.”