Birth Death and Medicine Trip 2020

Middle schoolers and teachers posing for a picture

Every year during their 18 day field trips, the middle schoolers of Arthur Morgan School create a blog, documenting their trip. The students post pictures and write about what they did each day. They get to choose what moments they want to highlight and show off to their parents and friends at home.  The blog is an awesome opportunity to reflect on what they are learning and articulate their feelings about their journey. 

Right now the Birth, Death and Medicine Field Trip is in Washington D.C. and will soon be heading back to North Carolina. In their own words, here is what our students have to say about the trip so far!

Day 1

First day of 18 Days!! We were all so excited to start off our 18 Day trip. We started our day with a one hour drive to Asheville to visit the Center for End of Life Transitions, an organization that focuses on helping more people do home funerals. Then we traveled to the Carolina Memorial Sanctuary, took a nice stroll through the park learning about green burials and seeing all the graves. After that it was off to Trader Joe’s for a snack stop, and then to Staples to print our zines. Finally, we drove to the Asheville Friends Meeting to end our day and rest for the night. It‘s super welcoming and homey and they have a beautiful library. The meeting room is very large, big enough to accommodate all of us. It feels like everyone’s energized and slightly anxious to be going on this super long trip, learning about Birth, Death, and Medicine!


Day 2

middle schoolers looking at a virtual cadaverWe had such a wild day! After we left the Asheville Friends Meeting, we had an hour drive to West Carolina University. When we went in, we first saw a virtual cadaver that had so many things you could play with. After the virtual cadavers, we saw two real ones that smelled SO badly of formaldehyde. When that was done, we had lunch and drove to Knoxville. When we were there, we did a community health assessment with Jane (a friend of Natalie’s who works at the Health Department). We walked all over town and through the graveyard. It was so different than the graveyard we visited yesterday! When that was done we went to the grocery store where Lucas did backflips. After a bit more driving ,we talked to Angela an energy healer. We ended our day at the Knoxville Friends Meeting. We can’t wait until tomorrow!


Day 3

Today we slept in. We had no big plans and we all needed the sleep. After eating breakfast and packing up our stuff, we helped out the Friends Meeting we were staying at and pulled up some English ivy. The first thing on our agenda was going to Planned Parenthood. Besides seeing a woodchuck on our way in, we learned about what they do including abortions and educating the community around them. After that, we drove back to the Friends Meeting and met with someone who works with the Knoxville Abortion Doulas Collective. They taught us about what they do and other programs like theirs through fun, engaging activities. After that we packed up and drove to Nashville to stay at their Friends Meeting for two nights. Everyone was pretty hyper, but for the most part settled down before bed.


Day 4

middle schoolers talking to a midwife and pregnant womanWe went to The Farm (an hour outside of Nashville) with midwives and it was a fun time! We climbed trees and went in the forest. It was great, their school is a lot like AMS but they have no manual labor. The community sounds great, but the only sad thing is they only have four teenagers so I don’t know if I would want to go there. The ones we met there were super cool, Rosie, Bailey, and Mason. We had fun and they gave us a tour around their eco-village with houses made of clay and straw. We also talked to two of their midwives, Deborah and Sarah. They did a little memo on what a prenatal check-in looks like and gave us a bunch of cool info of how The Farm got started. We also got to feel what it was like to see if the baby was in the right position. They had a really awesome dome playground where we had lunch, and a community store where we made our vending stop for the day. Everyone was super hyped and upbeat. We all looked like we had a good time except for sometimes when we were bored. A lot of the time today though was really fun.


Day 5

midwife mapI woke up, checked my watch: 6:00 am. Friday the 28th. I packed my stuff quietly so as not to wake people up. In a little while, everyone was awake. Some of us rolled in a cart till we were told to stop because some people were meeting. So then we started sliding on the wooden floor. We finished packing up right before a yoga class settled in. We ate breakfast and hit the road.

We were on the road for four and a half hours, with a stop at a Food Lion in the middle to get some vending in for the day. After vending all of us went into a long quiet time and fell asleep. When we got to the Frontier Nursing University, we were very hungry so we set up a lunch. The Frontier Nursing University is the oldest midwifery school in the USA founded by nurse midwife named Mary B. She trained as a midwife in England and came back to train other nurse midwives and to give healthcare to the poor mountain regions. Our guide said that without her there would be no Leslie County. Before she came, many babies in the area died. The midwives sometimes rode on horseback to get to the births. We learned all of this from a security person who doesn’t do the tours.

poster about fighting domestic violenceThen, we drove an hour to get to the place we are staying (Christ Episcopal Church in Harlan KY). We came and settled in. Then we had a nice dinner of rice and beans with some good toppings. After dinner I got Nathaniel to help me with this blog post that I have just finished writing. Good night.

—Silas Maldonado

Day 6

When we woke up this morning there was an icy coat of snow covering the sidewalk. We ate a short breakfast and then drove an hour to Appalshop, a place with film workshops, a radio station, a theater, and a documentary archive. We had another fast meal and then we drove another two and a half hours to meet with Holler Health Justice, a reproductive justice organization. We played pin the IUD on the uterus, Plan B corn hole, and emotion operation. After that we had a quick drive to Barbara and Hank Walker’s house, who hosted us for dinner. They are part of the Charlottesville Friends Meeting. I still can’t believe that we’re already one third of the way done. There was some conflict today, but now everyone’s laughing and happy and we’re watching Babies (a Netflix show).


Day 8

middle schoolers talking to members of Great OakThis morning we woke up at the Charlottesville Friends meeting and had breakfast burritos. Then it was off to the Division of Perceptual Studies at UVA. They study near death experiences and the stories people tell about them. Also young children who remember their past lives. The researchers told us stories about several cases they had had that were very “interesting.” Many people who had these experiences changed how they lived their lives afterwards.

Then we went to the Great Oak Academy at Thomas Harrison Middle School to tell them about our school and our trip and just say hi. Their teacher is Sarah Golibart, a former AMS intern. And we are sleeping at her house tonight. While we were talking to the students, tragedy struck and Nathaniel fell ill. He and Lena went to urgent care, then the hospital. They are still there.

After we left the school, we went to Sarah’s house and had dinner with one of her neighbors, a Chinese medicine doctor. She provided us with delicious tea that tasted of cinnamon. It was an eventful day and now we’re going to bed, and hoping we’ll see Nathaniel well soon.


Day 9

Today was such a fun and low-key day! After we packed up at Sarah’s house, we drove to the Brookhaven Birth Center. They had 2 birthing rooms that seemed very comforting and were 1000 times better than a hospital. We then went back to Sarah’s house to have lunch and pick up Nathaniel who was resting after being sick. We then drove to Baltimore where we settled at Homewood Friends Meeting. About 30 minutes later, Clare visited us from the Baltimore Doula Project and taught us about their prison support program. They are full-spectrum doulas. This group focuses on women who are in prison, helping educate them about their options around pregnancy and childbirth, and are really supportive of the mothers. I can’t wait until tomorrow!


Day 10

middle schoolers working with da vinci robotThis morning we woke up at Homewood Friends Meeting and we ate breakfast burritos for breakfast and packed our lunches. We walked across the road to get a tour of part the Engineering Department at Johns Hopkins. After getting a tour we learned about the DaVinci robot that is used to do surgeries all around the world. We got to test it out using the same practice setup that the medical students use. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to use it. It felt like having mini hands that were detached from your body. We were all excited to play with it and thought it was really cool. We even watched a Youtube video of a DaVinci being used to remove a gallbladder. Yikes.

Afterwards we walked to Barnes and Noble to get some caffeine because it’s Wednesday (our caffeine day) and eat our lunches and get the shuttle over to the medical school. When we got to the medical school, we met with three professors from the History of Medicine Department. We talked with them about their research. Graham taught us about public health in Baltimore, including differences in life expectancy by neighborhood. He taught us about the city’s racial segregation and its correlation to life expectancy. Mary talked about her study of a book called Aristotle’s Masterpiece and why it was sold for so long (1600s-1930s). The book described (not very accurately) pregnancy and childbirth. She figured out it was popular with teenagers because there was no sex education back then.

middle schoolers at Department of History of MedicineThen she showed us really old rare books that the college uses for research, including the first illustrated anatomy book and the first midwifery book! The oldest medical book we saw was a one-of-a-kind handwritten medieval manuscript with vellum (animal skin) pages. I learned a lot about Baltimore and what the History of Medicine department does.

We took the bus back to the Friends meeting, and met with the author Antero Pietila. He talked about how Johns Hopkins has influenced the community since when it was created in the late 1800s, and also more recent stuff such as their new private police force which is very controversial in the city. We also learned that the African American community surrounding Johns Hopkins has always been suspicious of the college and hospital due to past research practices, even sometimes referring to it as “the plantation.”

Now we are enjoying the Friends meeting and making dinner for our second night at Homewood. We are really excited about our day off tomorrow, which we have many plans for.


Day 11

We woke up late because it was our day off, so we got to sleep in. Homewood (the place we’re staying at) is great! It’s still in the city, but on the outer edge so it’s close to everything. It’s a really cool historic Quaker building.

jellyfishSo first we went to the National Aquarium, with some free passes from a professor at Johns Hopkins who let us use them. The aquarium was pretty great! We split into groups and got to see all the fishes, and pet jellyfish, and then we got to go see a dolphin show which was freaking awesome. They had both mental and physical training. They knew how to retrieve stuff, they waved at us, they threw balls in the air and caught them in their mouths, they did backflips and 360’s. The trainers threw them treats when they did well. Also the whole place was filled with people watching the show.

After that some of us went to the Visionary Art Museum which I heard was cool. Some of us stayed at the aquarium. Nathaniel and I took the long way to Red Emma’s Bookstore (through a coffee shop and Marshall’s). Taking the bus was interesting, we saw a lot of the city on our way, but it was terribly bumpy.

The whole group met there at Red Emma’s Bookstore. Red Emma’s is a cooperative. There’s no boss, everyone runs it like at AMS. I took a little nap and we read and listened to poetry. I really liked the science section that they had. I also found a graphic novel version of Albert Camus’ “The Stranger.” One of the guys who worked there, Ken, showed us around and did a piece for us. He does his own poetry and he was really great.

Then we went back and ate dinner, and after that we went to Charmery Ice Cream where I got a 9 dollar hot fudge sundae with a scoop of mint mountain and a scoop of cinnamon toast crunch, whipped cream and a cherry and a bunch of Oreo crumbles. Even though I’m lactose intolerant it was so worth it.


Day 12

In a group far far away, on Earth, in the city of Baltimore, it was 4 am. Ash gets woken up by a mysterious unknown person: Heater-Man banging away (a poltergeist we decided lives in the fireplace/ventilation). Ash struggles to go back to sleep and finally does. Half an hour later, Silas awakes, but can’t get out of bed for an hour and a half. So now it was 6. And Silas rises from the pews, removing one by one the cushions of what was once the fort for sleeping. By 6:30, Lena starts waking the rest of the group. We pack up quickly and thoroughly, replacing the cushions back in their spots and returning the pews to their places. Now it was breakfast, about 7:15. Silas clerks the starting circle. We then have a great wonderful breakfast of oatmeal with some of Lena’s donated gorp. Then clean up starts. The others finish packing up their personal stuff and then we move to packing up the transit. After the transit was packed, we quickly swept the places that we had used and packed ourselves up into the car.

middle schooler holding a brainAs we moved to the University of Maryland Brain Bank, Gil does not look very excited but deep down we know he is. We went up to the 13th floor and had a meeting in the conference room. At the brain bank we talk about what they do: they don’t study the brains but they have them to send out to researchers. They focus on children’s brains, and also brains of autistic people, and ones with disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s. They take samples on microscope slides, they either fix or freeze them (fixing involves marinating in a chemical solution to preserve the tissue for longer periods than freezing, and freezers are kept at -80 degrees Celsius), and each section is carefully separated and labeled.

Then we go down into their basement and look at some brains. This is when Gil gets the biggest smile in his face anyone has ever seen! What they do during power outages is they have backups for all the freezers, alarms when the temperature gets too high, and if all else fails they can flood the freezers with liquid carbon dioxide. The ventilation goes too during an outage, so the place heats up like a sauna.

As we get to the transit, Nathaniel starts his song. We start our drive to the wondrous land far far away called Philadelphia! Dun dun dun! Once we were there we went to the Mütter Museum. We ran into Van’s grandma, and went to this class called Spit Spreads Death about Influenza. It was a terrible pandemic, killing 50-100 million people, during WWI which spread everything even more and made it worse. The disease may have originated in either Eastern China or Kansas.

In Philly they were having a parade for liberty bonds, not worried about the pandemic, and three days latter all the hospital beds were filled. They didn’t know about viruses back then. Virus theory came in the 1930s (with the invention of the electron microscope!), and the first flue vaccine wasn’t invented until the 1940s. With coronavirus, we’re taking a lot of the same precautions now as then: washing hands, not touching faces, and staying home if you’re sick, etc.

After the class we went into the main exhibits and saw fascinating stuff like weird soap bodies, skulls, skeletons, babies in jars, and lots of deformations of the spine. There was also an exhibit on the flu pandemic upstairs.

middle schoolers looking at shelves in the brain bankThe museum was established in 1863 by Thomas Dent Mütter, a professor of surgery. He collected more than 1,300 unique specimens, and offered this collection to the The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The museum now has 25,000 fascinating items.

Then we went out to a pizza place. Except guess what? Silas can’t have pizza. So he got this tortilla that Van’s grandma had kindly brought for him, and asked to get a Philly cheese steak wrap with some fries! We watched baseball, a weird cop show, and American Ninja Warrior while we were sitting in the restaurant. Then Van’s grandma gave us gift bags with assorted treats, all of which Silas can eat!

Then we found a parking space right in front of the place where we’re staying. Then we all fought over who was going to take a shower, so we made a list. After I took my shower and after we played a two-headed game of Magic, I came and sat down, organized some cards, got Nathaniel to come in and help me with this blog post that is taking so long, and now I am writing the letters A, B, C…


Day 13

This morning we got up on our own because we didn’t have to be anywhere early. We had a breakfast of leftovers – pizza, granola, and coffee cake that Laela’s mom sent us (thank you!!!). After that, we went to Six Fishes, a Chinese Medicine practice. We sampled some herbs for post nasal drip. It was extract form and tasted a little bit sweet and bitter.

middle schoolers talking to person about Chinese medicineWe learned that Chinese Medicine has treated many epidemics and could help with treating the corona virus. Cara, the main herbalist there, has prepared a couple of formulas for coronavirus particularly. The herbs involved need to be fragrant enough to cut through mucus and phlegm involved in this illness. Cara also talked about yin and yang, which is about the importance of balance. Wherever there is yin, there is yang, and vice versa. Yin can be born out of yang. For example, “you need both birth and death to live a life,” once said a Laela.

After that, we went back to the house we are staying at, to eat a hasty lunch. We ate fast because we had to make it in time to go to talk to Losang, who was formerly a Tibetan Buddhist monk and currently a spiritual leader. He explained to us the five elements – earth, fire, water, air, space (space leaves room for everything to function). He explained when you are dying, first the earth in you dies, and you are weaker. Then, the water leaves and you start to feel thirsty. Next, the fire leaves your body and you start to feel cold. After that, the air leaves your body which in Western medicine means you’re dead, but you’re not dead yet. Finally, space leaves your body (which can take many hours).

He said that life is constant small deaths, and mentioned that meditating on death can help you live a better life. He also explained that the world is so divided, and he thought that the internet would change everything so that people would see each other as human beings, but he said people just became more divided. He had an interesting teaching style that I liked very much, and the environment was calm and welcoming.

After that, we went back to the house and had a rest time. Then we talked to Nathaniel’s cousin, Virginia, who talked about disability justice and charity versus mutual aid (charity is bad). Then we hung out for a while, and now I’m writing this blog post. I can’t believe that we are almost done with our trip! Sad!


middle schoolers in a tree

Day 14

Today we woke up (some of us really early, some of us late). I was confused because the time changed and it was terrible. I took a shower, and then I told Natalie we needed breakfast and she said “brunch?“  I replied, “Kitty brunch brunch?” Then everyone said kitty brunch brunch! Now it was 1 o’clock.

We got brunch at Penrose Diner, they didn’t have chicken and waffles, but they did have corn beef hash so it was ok I guess. Everyone else thought it was pretty great. (We

ate mountains of eggs and waffles and pancakes and potatoes and several hot chocolates. And the cakes on display were “salivatingly” beautiful.) We got in the car and drove for three hours back through Baltimore and then to DC and now we’re at Ana’s mom’s house.

She gave us alfajores, Argentinian cookies, with chocolate and wafer and caramel. They were delicious. We goofed around in the back yard, wrestling and climbing fences and locking each other out. There’s a patch of grass, three stone sculptures, a garage, and a table. We’re all sleeping outside now, it’s mandatory (it’s not: staff are in the attic while students are sharing two rooms on the second floor). 

Ana’s mom Patricia joined us for dinner. Lucas went with his aunt and uncle. Patricia gave us guacamole and chips and salad which was nice. We talked about death and how we all wanted to be thrown in the woods (and also recounted what we learned about green burial and cremation). Patricia said it was empowering that as young people we were having these experiences. It was a good day. We’re excited to be in DC, which is between Maryland and Virginia, not Virginia and North Carolina.


Day 15

This morning we woke up at Ana’s mother’s house, and we ate a delicious breakfast of beans and rice. Then we had a little jaunt over to the Metro Station. We rode the subway over to the National Mall and then we split into two groups to peruse the museums.

middle schoolers in front of the Washington MonumentOne group went to the Natural History Museum. That was Lucas. Julius Silas Nathaniel and me. We saw the Outbreak exhibit which focuses on epidemics and pandemics. We read about many diseases like Ebola, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), and MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome), HIV/AIDS and the influenza pandemic of 1918. We packed our lunches and ate in the museum cafeteria. The other group went off to the Hirschorn Museum and looked at modern art. That group consisted of Van, Laela, Ashton, Natalie and Lena.

We walked around the museums for an hour and a half before going to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), where we learned from Lauren about lawyers who work with pregnant women in prisons. They try to improve the conditions of their pregnancies. That includes getting rid of shackling during childbirth, providing better nutrition, and getting out of solitary confinement. Lauren talked about the difference between jails and prisons (jails are temporary holding places for people before they have a trial; prisons are longer term holding places for people who have been convicted), and explained that gathering data usually comes from prisons, not jails. She said one really frustrating thing is that even when they make legislative wins it’s often hard to enforce. Most of the prisons are for profit so they can afford to pay the fines and not obey the laws. An example is when they banned shackling in the state of Arizona, but they kept doing it anyway.

After that we split into two groups again. The first went to see the Washington Monument. That consisted of Lucas, Silas, Nathaniel and I, and the other group went off to Trader Joe’s but our group got home before them.

We had a relaxing evening, Patricia joined us for dinner, and now it’s after dinner and we’re winding down getting ready for bed.


Day 16

middle schoolers exercisingThere was so much driving and so little official visits today! After we left Patricia’s house, we took the bus downtown and visited the Advocates for Youth, who talked to us about how they give kids accurate and non-shaming sex-ed. We got a tour of their office, and learned about a spectrum of how to make change. We did an exercise where we decided where certain situations fit on the spectrum. It included direct service, self help, education, advocacy, and community organizing. They also fed us snacks! Then we drove to Lena’s parents’ house, Chris and Laurie, in Chapel Hill. They gave us dinner and dessert, and then in the evening we did appreciations, where we shared what we enjoyed about each other on the trip.


Day 17

After breakfast, the first place we visited was IPAS (used to be International Pregnancy Assistance Services, currently just IPAS) where Lena’s mom Laurie works. At IPAS we talked to multiple people who told us about their work internationally with abortion access. They taught us about why someone might want an abortion and why everyone should have access to abortions. We saw some statistics that showed us why abortion should be legal and how it’s helped people in the past, from ancient civilizations to the present day, with things like decreasing the death rates of birthing people. It’s relevant now because we know that people would not have been doing it in ancient times unless it worked. They had a reason, and it was safe.

instruments used at IAPSCecilia explained different countries’ views of abortion and how no one country has the safest quality and access. Some have better access and some better quality. For example, Canada is the best in its laws, but has limited access in terms of who gets it and how easy it is. We also learned that Latin American countries are some of the worst in terms of access to safe abortion. Laurie works the most there. IPAS is trying to spread the pills with easy directions for use. Besides the legal situation, there’s a lot of judgement, especially towards younger people who might be victims of rape. Doctors don’t want to get sued, so they’re less likely to administer.

Then we went into the library where we learned about the different tools used for abortion, both medical and surgical. We saw some vacuums that people are trained to use, and a papaya box that people use when they don’t have a model of a uterus. We looked at the medications that you can use for an abortion, and the two that best work together, and how and when to take them. As most medications do, they have side effects, but most people prefer the pills because you can take them in the comfort of your home and oftentimes they’re cheaper.

We had lunch at a buffet place, Weavers Street Market. They had hot bar and salad bar. We took a short walk to Merritt’s Pasture, which was very hot but had lots of shade. It was beautiful, and we all got to read or walk around and play frisbee.

We went back to Lena’s house to wait for the next person to come, but her conferences were canceled so she didn’t show. We packed up our things and drove to Lucas’ house. But before we went, Ashton got picked up to make the two hour drive home so we said our goodbyes there.

At Lucas’ house we ate dinner (lots of pizza!) and got to hangout the rest of the evening. We got some exercise in the nearby parks, and some people played pickle ball. Later, a bunch of people came and sat outside by the fire. We played hide and seek tag with little Silas (Lucas’ brother), then we talked about what we brought to All School Meeting a while back about the unethical labor behind many of the things we enjoy today such as tea, coffee, bananas, and chocolate.