For the sophomore and junior students in Robby May’s AP World History class, textbooks are not the only source of learning. The class recently returned from a field trip to the D.C. metropolitan area that included visits to houses of worship of the Judaic, Christian and Islamic faith traditions. May teaches at Fort Hill High School and has been an educator for thirteen years and considers field trips an important educational tool. Last month, shortly after sunrise, the group departed from Cumberland, Maryland making the three-hour journey to the nation’s capital and to the McLean Islamic Center, one of the newest houses of worship in Tysons Corner.
May’s previous year’s class made a similar trip that was slated to visit an Islamic Center in D.C., but an unexpected cancellation left May scrambling for alternatives the day before the trip. A Facebook plea was shared dozens of times and within a few hours it caught the attention of the President of the McLean Islamic Center, Dr. Sultan Chaudhry, who messaged the distraught teacher offering to help. The next day, the two met for the first time at the center and led the class in a two-hour long discussion on Islam, its tenets and misconceptions. After overwhelming positive feedback from his class, May decided to arrange the trip again. Despite many obstacles, including the original December date being cancelled due to heavy snowfall, Fort Hill’s AP World History class found itself at the McLean Islamic Center’s doors once again on Tuesday. The event began with introductions that allowed participants to say their name and one question they have about Islam. As with the attendees last year, all of the students participated in the conversation with questions fielded by Dr. Chaudhry, who is also a practicing dentist, and Ms. Isra Bhatty, a D.C. attorney who volunteers at the center. Students learned about Islamic theology and spirituality while also discussing how Islam compared to Christianity and Judaism. After asking May how trips like these benefit high school students in today’s climate, he replied by saying, “I want to give my kids these experiences and connections with other people to diversify primary sources of learning.” May made it clear of the importance to not only teach students through the textbook, but also through real world examples too. “A lot of it is to expose them to other people, other cultures, things that relate to the curriculum but are much bigger,” he says. The effects of his efforts are tangible, when asked if these types of field trips are beneficial to them, everyone in the class eagerly responded in agreement. Cierra Wilson, one of the students in May’s class, mentioned how much she enjoyed the trip, saying that, “it’s always good to learn, to have a broad spectrum.” Another attendee was quick to answer that field trips like these teach people that not everything you see on the news is real, alluding to the portrayal of Muslims in the media. The McLean Islamic Center garnered widespread media attention following a contentious zoning battle that was successfully won in 2018. William Swink, a junior at Fort Hill, added that when students are exposed to more diverse communities, “it breaks stereotypes.” Dr. Chaudhry was impressed with the group, saying that, “the conversations and experiences these young women and men are having are invaluable.” May has decided to make this field trip an annual event, intending to come back next year. “Robby has dedicated himself to immersing his students in unique environments,” says Dr. Chaudhry, “this will help them connect their classroom content with the surrounding community, what more could you want from a teacher?”