Amtrekkin' is an interim term course at Maumee Valley Country Day School in Toledo, Ohio. During our interim term (called Winterim), we take a month off from our regular courses and offer a variety of month-long intensive, experiential courses for students. Some involve independent studies that the students arrange, others are on-campus offerings exploring topics like Forensics or Engineering or Novel Writing. Each Winterim, however, offers a variety of travel options for students - most go overseas to Italy, France, China, Spain. This trip is a little different.
Amtrekkin' is a thirteen day train trip around the United States, visiting six cities: Chicago, Dodge City, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, Austin and St. Louis. Our emphasis in the course is twofold. First, we aim to give the students practical travel experience, and second, we feed their brains with writing instruction in the genre of creative non-fiction. All students are assigned cities to research - public transportation options, local attractions, local history and transportation to and from our hostel and the train station. They choose the sights we see, arrange how to get there, and lead the group while we're touring each city - all the while keeping us within our budget and on-schedule.
For the writing components, each pair of students is required to write a city profile that combines both research as well as their own experiences in their city. All students are required to keep a daily journal and post blogs on this site (one entry for each train leg and each city), and to do a certain number of interviews with people they meet on the train. When the trip is finished, we've asked the students to choose a context through which they can frame their experiences - a theme for telling the story of the trip. This could be architecture, food, music, culture, history, or answering big questions like "What does it mean to be famous?" or "How does the idea of entertainment vary from city to city?" When the trip is finished, they'll revisit their journals, blogs and city profiles to tell the story of their trip in polished travelogues, which we will publish in a book along with photos they've taken.
The whole thing lasts just thirteen days and covers 5227 miles - with no sleeper cars.