Central High School teacher Darla Moomaw saw an opportunity to teach her students valuable life lessons and it worked out well.
Moomaw's mother, Pat Holloway and her friend Kenneth Bradley Sr. went on a cross-country trip in January and Moomaw decided to involve her students. Bradley's son had bought a 1967 GMC pickup truck, originally owned by Elvis Presley. Comedian Jay Leno tracked down who owned the truck and wanted to talk about it and show it on his show 'Jay Leno's Garage.' Holloway and Bradley Sr. agreed to take the truck to Burbank, California, for the show and Moomaw saw it as a great way to teach her students.
"At the high school level, there is a lot of focus on preparing students for the world after graduation transition," Moomaw said. "When my mom first told me about her trip, I instantly started thinking, 'this is a perfect way to incorporate real life lessons.' Students don’t get enough 'real life' in school. So, anyway I can provide that, it's a win-win situation. My thought was that it would be like they were taking the trip, along with her."
Moomaw said that her mom and Bradley Sr. left Waynesboro on Jan. 19 and arrived in Barstow, California, on Jan. 23 and delivered the truck to Jay Leno's Garage. She said they spent a couple of days sightseeing and met with Leno on Jan. 27. They left Burbank on Jan. 30 and stopped in Las Vegas for a couple of days to sightsee before starting back home. They stopped at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, to take pictures in front of Graceland on Feb. 4 and arrived back in Waynesboro on Feb. 7.
Moomaw asked her nine students to think like they were going on the trip and consider questions such as what activities would you pack to keep you occupied in your vehicle? What clothes would you pack for your trip? How do you wash your clothes while being gone this long from home? Where would you stop each night along the way?
Moomaw said the students did a lot of Internet research. They did work individually, as partners and as a group.
She said they each wrote a letter to her mom, introducing themselves and asking questions about how the trip was going. Each letter said on the front when she should open it, an idea the students came up with.
Moomaw said the students looked at gas prices and hotel prices and compared them.
"While they were still on the East Coast, mom would Facetime from the road, talk about the sites, and students could ask questions," Moomaw said. "Sometimes it was as if she was our reporter live on the road. As they got farther into the West Coast, the timing was not conducive to our class time, (9:35-10:55 a.m.)."
Moomaw said her mom sent pictures to her work email and Moomaw would display them on the classroom Smartboard. She said sometimes she would make it into a game and have the students try to guess where her mom was.
Moomaw said she tried to incorporate many different school subjects into her lessons with the students, including geography and history.
"We explored points of interest from the states (my mom) traveled in," Moomaw said. "Mom brought back lots of brochures from those areas, Nashville Tennessee, Graceland, Arizona-Indian culture, Oklahoma, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Reagan Library, Hollywood."
Moomaw also had the students do a project on the trip. Each student selected a state her mom had traveled through and created a Google presentation, featuring the state capitol, state flag, foods from the state, music, points of interest, time zone and temperature. Each student presented their project to the class using Moomaw's smartboard.
Moomaw said they printed the presentations out and placed them around the classroom in order of the trip route. Moomaw said they were planning on having her mom visit the classroom after coming back from the trip but due to the COVID-19 pandemic that did not happen.
Moomaw said the presentations taught the students social skills.
"The classroom discussions were amazing, planned and unplanned," she said. "Students learn appropriate conversational skills during discussions like these. Looking at your audience, eye contact, wait time, when is it appropriate to speak, how/when to interrupt, staying on topic."
Moomaw said her students absolutely loved the assignments and project.
"We spent a designated amount of time each day on the subject. They never thought of it as an 'assignment,' I think because it is real life stuff. They would walk in the door asking “where is your mom today”? Or, “are we going to talk about your mom’s trip”? There were times when the students were so into it, class time would be over before we realized it. It definitely contributed to our classroom community."
Moomaw said that her mom said that Leno was great to meet and talk to and even had a funny story to tell about him.
"One day while being with Jay Leno, mom commented 'today is Tuesday,'" Moomaw said. "Jay Leno said, 'no, it's Wednesday.' Mom continued a conversation with him about the day and couldn’t settle her mind on his answer. Later on that day, while they were backing in the trailer, Jay Leno ran out into the parking lot, yelling for mom. In her mind, she was thinking, 'why is or would (Jay Leno) be yelling at me?' You know, that a celebrity is even considering talking to me? Anyway, he yelled, 'you are right, you are right, it is Tuesday.'"
Moomaw said that her mom and Bradley Sr. also got to meet Blake Shelton and eat with Leno and Shelton, and said they were very nice. Holloway and Bradley Sr. also got to be extra's on the set of the show.
"I received a phone call one evening from my mom," Moomaw said. “She said 'I have someone who wants to talk to you.' The next voice I heard was 'Hello, Mrs. Moomaw, this is Jay Leno, how are you?'" I couldn’t believe it, I was sitting on my living room couch in Woodstock, Virginia, talking to Jay Leno. We discussed the students and he commented on how nice mom and Kenneth were and he would take good care of them."
Leno's generosity did not stop there. Holloway told him about Moomaw's class and what they were doing so Leno sent each of them an autographed Route 66 hat and an autographed photo of himself.
Holloway had key chains from Hollywood and brochures and state maps for each of the students and put everything in gift bags for each student.
Moomaw and Holloway had planned on giving out the gift bags in class but due to the COVID-19 pandemic that didn't get to happen. So last week Moomaw drove to each student's house and dropped off the gift bag.
"Because we had been out of school since March 13, I think they were just glad to see a teacher," Moomaw said. "I think they were surprised that I would actually drive to their house. I had informed their parents the day before, so they knew I was coming. Some of the kids were not told, so it was a complete surprise. They loved the gifts. They knew my mom had bought something, but had no idea it was autographed by Jay Leno. Mom had picked up a ton of brochures and state maps, one for each student, those were in the bags as well. This way they could relive the trip and have a hand-held visual. We know we can have information at the touch of our fingertips, but it’s nice to have something to physically hold and look at."
The show aired on May 20 on CNBC and that evening before the show, Moomaw, her students and Holloway met on google hangouts.
"The main purpose was to be able for mom and the students to connect since our school year was abruptly ended," Moomaw said. "We had planned for her to come to school to visit in person. A google hangout was the next best thing. They wore their hats for her to see and they talked about the trip. She told them about filming and Jay’s garage. She thanked them for writing to them and for participating with their trip."
Moomaw said that she believes that the whole experience was a valuable one for her students.
"The bigger picture of planning a trip," she said of what they learned. "At their ages, most teenagers just grab what they need and hop in the vehicle, while parents do all of the planning. This gave them the opportunity to learn how much planning and preparation it takes when going on a trip. Also, that school is fun. I hope they gained new insights into the country they live in. We are so busy in our own worlds, we don’t spend as much time as we should discovering the world outside of where we live.
"Also, learning through the eyes of grandparents. We don’t do this enough, either. Seeing the students excited is what all teachers want, but getting to see a connection with learning and it’s happening between generations is very touching. The connections between teacher, student, family, celebrities. We're all just people sharing this planet."