Morgan Floyd, Cowgill Elementary School

Have you ever heard of the little town of Cowgill in rural Missouri, about an hour northeast of Kansas City? Most people haven’t. Nestled in this quiet small town of fewer than 200 people, sits CES, a small pre-kindergarten-eighth-grade school district. Our school, with 55 students, is just as unique as the little town it sits in. Our teachers generally teach multiple classes. The staff of 11 works hard every day, and each wears numerous hats as staff members.

The 2018-2019 school year was starting to approach, and Betty Vassmer, the principal/superintendent (yes she is superwoman and wears both hats) addressed Toi Cox, the secretary and me, the PK teacher/paraprofessional about leading a project-based class on Fridays with the entire school enabling the teachers to have an additional collaboration period. The idea behind project-based learning is that students employ principles from all subject areas, utilize collaboration with others and gain ownership of the project by teaching themselves and learning as they go.

We had lots of ideas and projects we wanted to do, but one stuck: the Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, a place a lot of these kids had never even heard of before our discussions. We started the year off with a presentation on the zoo and then asked how many kids would like to go. All hands went up, and that’s when we knew we had our work cut out for us. Not only were we going on a three-hour road trip through three states, but we wanted the kids to ride in style. Charter buses were the best option, built-in bathroom, DVD players, comfortable seats… only the best for our students.

Now it was time to begin the real project, finding ways to raise money for this trip to the zoo. The students set their own goal based off of research of the zoo costs, bus rentals, and shirts for each student and teacher. They came up with their own goal of $2000 which they planned to meet with numerous raffle ticket ideas, designed bracelets to sell, sold suckers, and held a spring dinner theater. Our students knew that it was going to be hard to raise the money for this trip, but they put in a lot of work. They researched and communicated with others, created signs and newsletters, designed our own unique bracelets to sell, and came up with a sucker sales campaign in which they sold suckers to every delivery driver that visited our school.

Every year our students put on a spring show. This year we had an original production based off of our little school in which our students performed and hosted a dinner before the show. We had over 200 people attend from our small town and surrounding towns. After the dinner show and a donated pie auction, we had exceeded our goal. We had raised nearly $3,000, but the work wasn’t done just yet! We still needed shirts for all the students in the school. Of course, this led to a school-wide competition, and we picked one student’s artwork and turned it into our shirt design with the quote, “I’m at the Zoo with the CES Crew”, bright blue and orange to stand out in a crowd!

The day finally came on May 16. We loaded the two fancy buses at six o’clock in the morning, and we hit the road, Omaha or bust! We went, we conquered, and we enjoyed every minute of the zoo, between the near-perfect weather, excellent student behaviors, and exceptional parent volunteers and staff we had the most adventurous end-of-the-year field trip. A journey that they began as a concept was mastered by our students through creative thinking and determination.

All students, no matter where they live or what their background, deserve access to high quality project-based learning. We could not have completed this task and adventure without the support, donations, and determination of our students, staff, school board, parents, and community.