This piece first appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat.
Tallahassee has been trying to attract visitors and new residents to come and appreciate our city, but our own schools seem to be saying there is little worthwhile here as they plan long-distance field trips to theme parks and major commercial enterprises.
Instead, schools should take advantage of local opportunities to spark new ideas and cultivate cultural, civic and environmental connections to the world around them.
Year after year, the field trips look something like this: 5th grade Sea World, 6th grade Wild Adventures, 7th Disney (or Disney’s Animal Kingdom) and Busch Gardens, and 8th grade Washington, D.C., or New York. Trip costs range from $75 to almost $1,000, which may not be affordable to some.
Instead of reward trips to places children already like — and may have already been — field trips should be enrichment opportunities that help develop values and spark ideas for our children.
Field trip benefits are greatest when there is a connection to curriculum; students can learn to connect with world around them; and when it is to a place students don’t already know about.
Instead of traveling as many as four hours away, spending excessive amounts of money, and supporting questionable commercial practices, let’s consider opportunities that teach our children how to engage and improve our communities or provide greater civic interaction.
Schools should think more creatively, considering the types of places around us that can help students understand how things work — including in our own city. Tours of a sewage treatment facility or the emergency management building can be engaging while teaching about waste and safety, and may be tied to science, technology and the environment.
Other examples of local field trips would be viewing the Democrat’s printing press or even asking for tours behind the scenes at hotels, the Tallahassee Solar Farm, or mechanical and HVAC facilities at major buildings.
For wildlife opportunities, we have St. Francis Wildlife Association, St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, and the Tallahassee Museum. If we are desperate to go further afield because “everyone” has been to the Tally Museum, then let’s look toward organizations that are trying to maintain biodiversity and native species like the Seacrest Wolf Preserve and Homosassa Springs State Park. We will instill greater values of responsibility than from animal interactions for commercial reasons.
The School of Arts and Sciences took third graders to Trader Joe’s this year, and many students and parents were surprised at how engaging and interesting this simple, inexpensive field trip was. It allowed exploration of nutrition, business management, advertisement and budgeting.
Creative field trips like these are affordable and expand kids’ practical understanding of work and their cities.
Shaleen Miller is a Ph.D. student in Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University, as well as a mother of an elementary and a middle school student.