Hayfield Secondary is situated on land that George Washington once bought to increase the size of his famous Mount Vernon estate, located several miles to our east on bluffs overlooking the Potomac River. When Washington purchased this remote parcel of land in 1761, he used it as his hay field (after which our school, the nearby subdivision and this general area is named), and he eventually sold this far western parcel of 360 acres to his plantation manager for further development. (For a brief but rich history of the Hayfield area, please visit THIS excellent write-up by Dr. Dennis Pfennig, a 30-year teaching veteran of Hayfield Secondary.)

Over the years, farmers and land owners alike have often referred to their most undeveloped or most remote parcels of land as their "back 40 acres" -- in the example above, George Washington very likely considered the Hayfield area we know and love today as his own "back 40." This new feature in Hayfield Secondary PTSA's Hayfield Happenings newsletter will occasionally highlight the out-of-the-box thinking and unique points of view that Hayfield Secondary faculty and staff bring to their jobs to help students learn and see the world from a different perspective -- and not necessarily within the walls or confines of the school's campus. You will find that THIS view is a unique vista, showing how our school's outstanding teachers, staff and students daily interact to learn, grow and excel to make the world beyond our own "back 40" a better place.

This first "Back 40" features Mr. Tim Busch, a Hayfield Secondary U.S./Virginia history and government teacher who has taught on both the high school and middle school sides of the building in recent years, who along with his teammate Ms. Summer Johnson, strives to bring his curriculum alive by taking advantage of our unique proximity to the capital of the free world to make history come alive for his students... 

What interesting activity have you engaged in with your students, either outside the "normal" boundaries of your classroom or curriculum?

Because of the financial strain on our school district in recent years, my team teacher, Ms. Summer Johnson, and I have had to be a little creative in this area. Being so close to the Washington, D.C. area, there are so many places we would love to take our students to that would bring the material in the classroom to life. We, therefore, decided to take groups of our students on voluntary weekend field trips to places like the National Archives, the Newseum, the Capitol Building, and the Supreme Court. On these trips, students have had the opportunity to see “up close and personal” the very institutions we talk about all year long. 

How did you want these field trips to supplement your standard classroom curriculum and activities?

Like I said, we study the institutions of the national government and political life all year long. Giving these students a chance to tour the United States Capitol or the Supreme Court allows them to put a face with the name. They walk the same halls as our federal legislators. They see the courtroom of the Supreme Court Justices. They read the original copies of the U.S. Constitution and the Articles of Confederation. They look at the original newspaper headlines from the Civil Rights era. All of this helps them know that the topics we discuss in class are real and living parts of our country’s political life and history. 

What kind of reactions, input or feedback did students provide before, during or following the field trips?

I think that they are at first a little hesitant to spend a weekend afternoon with their teachers! But once we get together and start checking things out, they really get into seeing and experiencing everything. Ms. Johnson and I are very enthusiastic about these trips, as well as spending “outside” time with these kids. That enthusiasm is contagious! They get very excited when they connect with something that we have taught them in the classroom, and afterwards, the kids talk about their experiences with their friends and the pictures even start popping up on Facebook! It’s incredibly rewarding to us as teachers to see them making that kind of connection between subject matter and real life. 

How were you and your students inspired by the field trips in your teaching and in their learning? 

After these volunteer field trips, our students bring that enthusiasm from these trips back into the classroom. Many of them want to take more trips. All of them, I believe, see us teachers as a little more real. The personal relationships that are built during these times can benefit the environment of the classroom exponentially. And that translates into a better learning environment for everyone. It also helps them engage in the curriculum better and we can relate things back to the real life experiences we’ve shared. 

Do you plan to engage in these field trips again? What would you change or keep the same?

We definitely plan to continue doing these optional field trips. They are a win-win all around. We would love to do more of these kinds of trips throughout the year but scheduling is an issue. But the benefits of these times with the kids are so positive that we will continue to work them into the school year. As an aside, we hope to set an example to other teachers and encourage them to think outside the box in relating with their students. This is a fairly simple way to do that. If there are parents out there who have a unique connection to places like these, we welcome any insider help to give our students an amazing experience in American government.