High School Cemetery Field Trips Bring History to Life for Teens News2america

Halloween might be a good time for high schoolers to take a field trip to a cemetery to learn about history and more.

“I always tell them that ‘People are dying to get in there,'” says Chris Rolwes, a history teacher at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He takes his students on a field trip to a nearby cemetery near the end of each school year, after Advanced Placement exams are over, to learn about the architecture, culture and history of the burial grounds.

Most of his students think the trip is really strange at first, he says, but they seem to appreciate the experience later, after reflecting on it.

The students tour the cemetery and complete an assignment on the architecture of the burial ground, since the style of the cemetery markers often represent styles of decades past, he says.

One Twitter user told U.S. News he took students to a cemetery on a science-related trip.


Rolwes has also given his students a mini lesson on burial practices, and talks about how people are often as equal in death as they were in life – some residents of the cemetery have very elaborate graves, while for others, finding their grave could be a struggle.

And, as much as is appropriate, he discusses national trends related to death and dying, like hospice care and the death with dignity movement.

“It’s not an easy subject to talk about,” he says. “I have a lot of kids that are interested in sociology and they are interested in how things function in society and that’s an important part of it.”

“You are getting an experience here that you would never be able to replicate in a classroom,” says Marcy Breffle, education coordinator at the Historic Oakland Foundation, which helps operate the Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta in partnership with the city.

Students on tours of the cemetery learn about topics like Atlanta’s role in the Civil War and the growth of the civil rights movement, in relation to the more than 70,000 people who are buried there, she says.

She suggests high school teachers planning a field trip to a cemetery conduct an educational activity in addition to having a discussion about the burial grounds.

For example, students can pick a resident in the cemetery to research, she says. Then, they can use what they’ve learned to create a mock social media profile, she says.  

Teachers may also want to share what they are teaching in class with cemetery officials when planning a trip, she says, as the staff and tour guides may be able to tailor visits to what students are learning.

An educator on Twitter did a similar activity with her students.


Students are taken on a walk through the cemetery while actors portray some of the people who are buried there, she says. Her journalism students write a feature story about the event.

Both Hapgood and Rolwes say they have never received complaints about their cemetery field trips from parents. 

Rolwes, though, says a few students who had recently lost someone have opted out of the trip. 

He suggests teachers talk to their administration prior to doing a trip. And teachers should walk the cemetery beforehand so they can have a plan for what students will see, he says. He also suggests teachers talk about the trip before and after with their students. 

Hapgood says her students’ trip to the cemetery offers them writing material that is more exciting than what they usually have to work with.

“Sometimes you need something really, really, really different to capture their attention,” says Hapgood. “This event really has sparked our students’ interest in a great way.” 

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