From a historic prison to a modern ballet theater, Pennsylvania offers historical and cultural education opportunities that will keep students engaged. A trip to Pennsylvania will be packed with teachable moments and learning experiences that students can apply to their in-school education and daily lives.
The National Civil War Museum
The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg is the largest museum in the world dedicated to American Civil War. The museum prides itself on presenting a balanced account of the war through artifacts and exhibits on both the Union and the Confederacy. Though the museum is designed to be explored without a guide, historians are available to lead large groups and answer any questions. The museum offers students the chance to learn about the troubling issues that pitted brother against brother, and the nation’s struggle for survival and healing.
Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg National Military Park is a must-see destination for students of any age. Every weekend from April to October, Civil War historians set up encampments and provide living history demonstrations for visitors. From live artillery to period-accurate tools and lifestyle, these Civil War reenactments will immerse students in history in an exciting way. The park also offers guided battlefield tours, evening campfires and free ranger-led educational programs.
Independence National Historic Park
The Liberty Bell is one of the best-known historic landmarks in the United States, but that’s not the only landmark located in Philadelphia’s Independence National Historic Park. The park offers students the chance to learn about bell’s history and its famous crack, the early years of the United States and the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution at Independence Hall. Students can visit 12 buildings on the campus, including the Ben Franklin Museum for fun and interactive exhibits on Franklin’s life and legacy.
Eastern State Penitentiary
The historic Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia offers a hands-on learning experience for curious students. With guided tours of the 11-acre prison, students can explore Al Capone’s cell, learn about the everyday lives of the 80,000 inmates who once lived within the walls and hear stories about their daring escape attempts. There are interactive demonstrations throughout the cell blocks, including one where students are given the keys to the cells and can open and close them as they wish. In the evenings throughout the fall, the prison transforms into a horrifying haunted house. If students are interested in participating, it might be best to visit on a family night where younger students can say, “Monster, be good!” and the actors will oblige.
Into the Woods
Wolf Sanctuary of PA
Located just 20 minutes north of Lancaster, the Wolf Sanctuary of PA is an animal-lover’s paradise. Tours of the facility include the history of the sanctuary and the wolves that inhabit it, as well as information on wolves and their fight for survival after being hunted to near-extinction. A walk through the sanctuary allows students to see the wolves in their natural environments and discover the inner workings of each pack. Check the calendar for special events like full moon tours and bonfires for older students or folk music nights and Wolf Awareness Day for all ages.
Kinzua Sky Walk
Mt. Jewett is home to the Kinzua Sky Walk, where students can brave the remaining portion of the Kinzua Viaduct. It was the tallest, longest rail viaduct when it was constructed in 1882, and it stood completely in tact for 121 years. Students can still follow the railroad tracks for about 600 feet, peer down through a glass-bottom observation deck to see the destroyed parts of the bridge 301 feet below, and take in the scenic views of the surrounding forest. The Kinzua State Park offers students the chance to learn the history of the Allegheny National Forest and the Kinzua Bridge through group tours and interpretive programs.
Arts and Culture
At Pennsylvania State University’s famous Berkey Creamery in central Pennsylvania, students can taste the legendary ice cream and learn how their favorite dairy products are produced. The creamery is a landmark on the Penn State campus, and the two-story viewing area guarantees students a glimpse of production in action. It’s the perfect student-friendly spot to cool off and enjoy a taste of history.
Midtown Scholar Bookstore
Midtown Scholar Bookstore offers students the chance to explore a beautiful collection of old, rare and new books in a renovated 1920’s-era movie theater. Though it has expanded substantially, the bookstore remains a fixture in historic Harrisburg. Students will love wandering through the stacks, and maybe they’ll pick up a book written by a Pennsylvania native like Jerry Spinelli, Gertrude Stein or Louisa May Alcott.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Introduce your students to the arts at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. The 2016-2017 season includes performances of The Nutcracker and Alice in Wonderland. Students can spend the evening at the ballet or attend one of the matinee performances. They will be awed by extravagant costumes, beautiful music, classic stories and, of course, skilled performers.
The Martin Guitar Factory and Museum
The Martin Guitar Factory and Museum in Nazareth offers guided factory tours for students interested in the history of music and culture. Students can watch rough wood transform into beautifully crafted acoustic guitars in the hands of skilled craftsmen and high-tech machinery. The museum allows students to see over 170 guitars spanning six generations and the development of music and its production through the lens of the 175-year-old company.
By Sara Stokes