Field Trip Funding Cut Impact Weighed

BERLIN – No field trips next year is better than fewer teachers and larger class sizes, educators said this week, despite the academic value of the educational trips.

Controversial cuts to the Worcester County school budget proposed last week aimed to keep teachers and staff intact, but some things had to go, and field trips will be sorely missed.

Board of Education funding for field trips encompasses the traditional trip and band and sports transportation as well. Eliminating fields trips and reducing band and sports transportation saves the school system $121,503 per year.

Field trips are integral, culminating events to academic work, several principals said, not simply recreation dressed up as education. Visits to Annapolis illustrate government, while history can be found closer to home in Snow Hill and Berlin.

“The wonderful thing about field trips is it’s a real life experience,” said Showell Elementary School Principal Paula Jones.  “It’s a different level of learning. It’s a different depth.”

“There’s definitely instruction involved in the whole process,” said Ocean City Elementary Principal Irene Kordick.

Students prepare for a trip to a museum or a farm with academic work, then use that field trip as the basis of writing projects, for example, on their return to the school.

“Field trips match our curriculum goals, by making it real, not just out of a book,” said Jones. “We are very careful about where we go.”

A few years ago, Berlin Intermediate School, an arts immersion school, used ancient Egypt as a basis for social studies, math and reading units, ending in a trip to Philadelphia to see the King Tut exhibit, Principal John Gaddis said.

“It provided a great opportunity to expand the curriculum to the kids and that’s going to be gone,” Gaddis said.

Academics are not the only lesson learned on field trips.

“Many children would never get to Philadelphia or Baltimore if not for field trips,” said Kordick.

“We’re able to open up new worlds,” Gaddis said.                

Field trip funding is also used closer to home, to shuttle choirs, ROTC, and other groups to community events.

“That’s what’s going to be a problem for me,” said Stephen Decatur High School (SDHS) Principal Lou Taylor. “We’re such a community-based school. Our community supports us and we in turn support the community.”

Local organizations, such as the Lions Club, provide $300,000 in scholarship money annually to SDHS graduates, Taylor said. Those groups in turn often ask for a choir performance at an event, or help serving a dinner.

“I don’t want to say no to them,” Taylor said. “I want to say, absolutely, we’ll be there.”

OC Stars, a singing group from OCES, performs at nursing homes and events like Springfest, Kordick said, and the school has to find money to transport them.

Kordick is also concerned that she will not be able to afford to take the fourth grade class to visit their new school, Berlin Intermediate School, which costs $1,000 for school buses.

“Next year, there’s no way we can go. I don’t have $1,000,” Kordick said.

Field trips, whether local or over the bridge, are expensive. Gaddis said that a trip to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., using school buses, for the entire 300-strong fifth grade, eats up nearly his entire $7,900 field trip budget for the year.

Schools already depend on several sources of funding to send children on field trips, from budgeted monies to parents to PTA fundraising efforts.

Some families cannot afford field trip fees already, principals said, and the schools must absorb that cost.

“Every kid is created equal at Stephen Decatur High School,” said Taylor. “Sometimes that means we have to help.”

Some field trips may happen next year, but schools will need to reach out for funding from already strapped sources, like the PTA, local organizations and parents.

Taylor said he does not want to have to ask local groups, which already give the school so much support, for more.

Other worries eclipse the lack of field trips for educators.

“As a principal, I have to put the materials all the children need to function in the classroom first,” said Kordick, who envisions asking the PTA for help with vital supplies instead of field trips. “I never remember a year we had to go to our PTA and ask for money for paper.”

Schools must prioritize, several principals said.

“I’d rather keep my teachers. I’d rather keep my supplies,” Gaddis said.

 “I do realize we’re living in tough economic times,” said Taylor. “There’s got to be concessions made.”