My experience was mostly with at-risk students. Many of these students had moved from one school to another within the Washoe County School District numerous times within the same school year for a variety of reasons. Many ofå these students had not even traveled out of the city limits in their entire life.
An example of this lack of travel came to mind during a field trip to have the students see the Kokanee salmons’ annual spawning run up Taylor Creek at Lake Tahoe. The ranger conducting our tour asked the kids how many had never seen Lake Tahoe and 90 percent admitted they had never seen it. We, in Nevada, live in the land of “Omigosh!” and these students had never seen one of the most beautiful sights in the world located in their own backyard.
On another trip, upon landing in Cincinnati, Ohio, a student asked me what that mushroom shaped structure was. It was a water tower, and the student didn’t know what it was or what it was used for. Another student asked upon returning to her hotel room after a day’s travels who had made the beds. She apparently had never stayed in a hotel or motel.
At one time the school district would grant 50 cents per student per year for field trips, which to me was not only a joke but an insult to boot given the cost of travel for any field trip. That wasn’t enough money to go across the street let alone a trip to Lake Tahoe.
In the beginning of the school year I would hold an evening meeting for parents only. During that meeting, I would introduce myself and lay out my plans for the year, including field trips. I would ask the parents to vote for or against my program and if they agreed with my plans then we would figure out how the plans would be financed, with either district-approved fundraisers or simply out-of-pocket payments.
Those early meetings with the parents were essential to the smooth operation of my classroom for the rest of the year. The value of the meeting was that the parents got to meet me and they had a say in the activities we, as a class, were going to undertake. Additionally, I had a firm hold on my marching orders as to what I was going to pursue with my students and I then could begin to do the leg work of setting up our activities for the year.
When I taught in schools where the socio-economic level of the students would allow for it, I even organized trips to Washington, D.C. or New York City during spring break.
Thanks to a colleague of mine, I learned how to organize two-day trips to San Francisco. The trip cost a little more than $100 per person and I had to start taking payments in the fall to be able to pay the tab by the date of the trip in the spring. I never ever used school district money for this trip. Remember, the 50 cents per student for field trips was a joke. Why bother? Fundraisers often sell trinkets at horrible prices and take 60 percent of the money while giving back 40 percent to the class plus some gaudy prizes to students with the most sales. The money all comes from the parents and my reasoning was why do a fundraiser and essentially give away 60 percent of the money when we can collect and keep 100 percent of the money?
The field trips I took students on were not for the ability to say, “Whoopee! No class!” Students had to stay on task. I developed questionnaires for them to work on during our trips, which later were turned in to be graded. Students received the booklets back to keep as a sort of scrapbook of their travels.
I’m all for accountability in schools for everyone, including staff, but if Johnny sits his whole life in a classroom and sees nothing else, how well-rounded is Johnny going to be? I think without field trips to broaden his horizons to the world around him, down the road Johnny is a candidate to be a dropout at some level because he is bored out of his mind for a real lack of stimulation for his growing mind.
Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.