First-grade teacher Kim Campbell used her phone to snap a picture of three of her students perched on a mock cow during their visit Friday to the Scott Family Amazeum in Bentonville.
Kids from Rogers School District arrive on Thursday at the Amazeum in Bentonville.
Kyra Duncan, 8, Gerardo Ixchop, 7 and Max Cruz, 7, paint Thursday at the Amazeum in Bentonville.
Kids from Rogers School District make cloud rings Thursday at the Amazeum in Bentonville.
The students were some of about 125 first-graders from Springdale's Monitor Elementary School on a field trip. They gleefully flitted from one feature to the next within the homestead cabin and farm exhibit. They enjoyed exploring the cabin, picking plastic fruits and vegetables and sitting in the rocking chairs on the cabin's porch.
School field trip options in Northwest Arkansas are continuing to increase. Here are some examples of what’s coming:
• The Northwest Arkansas Nature and Education Center, a project of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, will be built off Interstate 49 in Springdale. A groundbreaking is set for Nov. 2. Construction of the $18 million facility is expected to take about three years.
• The Rogers Historical Museum will greatly increase its capacity once restoration of the Hailey Ford building, across the street from the current museum, is completed some time next year.
• The U.S. Marshals Museum is expected to open in September 2019 on the banks of the Arkansas River in Fort Smith.
Source: Staff report
"For them to experience this is amazing," Campbell said. "They've not had this kind of experience. Look at them. They're just in awe."
Just as Northwest Arkansas' population has grown, so too have the options for schools when it comes to outside learning experiences. The Amazeum, which opened in 2015, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which debuted in 2011, are two prominent examples.
Northwest Arkansas schools seem to be taking advantage of the opportunities. Molly Davis, principal of Elmwood Middle School in Rogers, said she believes wholeheartedly in the value of field trips for Elmwood students.
"We know that students in poverty come to us with a significant difference in their vocabulary than those children who did not grow up in poverty," Davis wrote in an email. "The best way to decrease this gap in vocabulary is to provide them with experiences where students can see vocabulary in action, touch the things they're learning about, or simply provide them a different perspective of their community."
She listed Crystal Bridges, downtown Rogers, local artist studios, restaurants and the Illinois River Watershed Partnership as examples of places Elmwood students have visited recently.
Field trips frequently are among the first things to be cut when school district budgets are lean. Annual surveys by the American Association of School Administrators show 9 percent of school administrators reported eliminating field trips in the 2008-09 school year. That figure rose to as high as 30 percent in 2010-11 as the nation struggled through a recession; it was back down to 10 percent as of the 2015-16 school year.
No such cuts are apparent in Northwest Arkansas, at least among the region's four largest school districts: Springdale, Bentonville, Rogers and Fayetteville.
The Bentonville Schools Transportation Department, for example, reported running 878 field trips covering 100,848 miles from January through May. That represented a 33 percent increase in number of trips and a 15 percent increase in mileage over the same period a year earlier.
John L Colbert, associate superintendent for support services for the Fayetteville School District, said field trips are an important part of learning. There's been no significant change in recent years in the number of field trips schools take, he said.
"Principals are good about selecting trips related to the curriculum," Colbert said.
Top draw: Crystal Bridges
Dozens of school districts and thousands of students visit Crystal Bridges on field trips each year.
In 2015, the museum welcomed 137 school districts and 40,808 students. In 2016, 189 districts brought 45,147 students, according to Sally Ball, school programs and gallery teaching manager. The museum expects around 46,000 students this year, she said.
The visitors have come from near and far. One group of high schoolers was from San Antonio, Ball said.
The Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation of Springdale established a $10 million endowment in 2011 to provide money schools can draw upon for field trips to the museum, covering the cost of transportation and substitute teachers if needed, lunches for the students and teachers, and pre- and post-visit educational materials.
It was Crystal Bridges that was at the center of a major study in which University of Arkansas researchers found field trips to cultural institutions have significant benefits for students.
The study involved more than 10,000 students from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. It compared those students who participated in a field trip to Crystal Bridges -- labeled the "treatment" group -- to a control group of students who hadn't been to the museum.
Researchers administered surveys to both groups. The treatment group was found to demonstrate stronger critical thinking skills, a higher level of tolerance and more historical empathy than the control group. In response to the findings, Crystal Bridges increased the capacity of its field trip program.
Letting kids develop and express their own interpretations of the artwork they see at Crystal Bridges is important because it teaches them their opinions are valid, Ball said.
"It's incredible to see a kid almost half-jokingly throw something out there, and if you take it seriously and say, 'Why do you say that,' they get this look on their face like they're thinking, 'She's actually taking me seriously'," Ball said. "I think kids operate in an adult world, where they're used to being talked at and not listened to."
Matt Morningstar, principal of Fayetteville's Holt Middle School, said groups of Holt students made trips to Crystal Bridges several weeks in a row this month.
"The educational value to this venue is a world class treat and as you know, nothing we can replicate here with pictures," Morningstar said.
The nearby Amazeum calls its field trips "Unfield Trips," which is meant to draw attention to their unconventional structure, said Mindy Porter, the Amazeum's education director. Instead of being led on a tour, students roam from exhibit to exhibit in small groups overseen by chaperones.
During the last two school years -- the first two years Amazeum was open -- 60,000 students and adults attended the Amazeum on Unfield Trips. The third year is expected to bring in about 25,000 more, Porter said. Most come from Northwest Arkansas, but others have come from Missouri, Oklahoma and central Arkansas, Porter said.
Grant money from the Walmart Foundation covers Unfield Trip admission for students and adults from Benton and Washington counties.
Many kids attending the Amazeum with their schools wouldn't get a chance to see it otherwise. Porter recalled speaking with a teacher who had come with a group of seventh-graders from Springfield, Mo., who said about half of the students never had gotten out of Springfield. She's heard similar things from Northwest Arkansas teachers.
"Those kids would not be here if the teachers didn't make it happen," Porter said.
Porter said she wants the Unfield Trip to provide students a new outlook on the world.
"We want them to go away feeling like they are curious and creative creatures, that they have the confidence to ask a good question, to investigate, to wonder what's happening around them," she said.
Lots to see
School buses packed with kids still may be seen pulling up to some of Northwest Arkansas' older institutions as well.
The Rogers Historical Museum averaged more than 3,100 students on field trips each year from 2003 to 2016. As of Monday, 2,177 students had visited this year.
Yearly totals have fluctuated from a high of 5,083 in 2007 to a low of 2,118 in 2011, according to data provided by Robert Rousey, curator of education.
The museum in recent years has ramped up its visits to schools through its outreach program, essentially bringing the field trip to the students. Museum educators have seen more than 18,000 students in their classrooms already this calendar year, nearly double the 10,316 students they visited in 2010.
Allyn Lord, director of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale, said the number of students visiting her museum declined from 6,150 in 2015 to 5,552 in 2016, a 10 percent drop.
Shiloh, like the Rogers Historical Museum, sends educators to the schools as well. A total of 4,371 students were reached that way in 2016. Shiloh also offers "lessons in a box" which are lent to teachers for classroom instruction; 7,412 students received those lessons in 2016, according to data Lord provided.
The Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville offers two main field-trip programs for schools: Colgate Classroom Series and Digging Up Arkansas.
Colgate Classroom trips come to the center to see shows. Digging Up Arkansas offers trips to Walton Arts Center or another venue to see the Arkansas history play produced by Walton Arts Center and performed by Bentonville-based Trike Theatre, according to Jennifer Wilson, the center's public relations director.
The number of students participating in those programs has been relatively consistent recently, with an average of 27,142 making Colgate Classroom trips and 5,554 seeing Digging Up Arkansas annually since 2012.
Weighing educational value
Not every place qualifies as an appropriate field trip destination in the eyes of school administrators.
Third-graders at Bentonville's Willowbrook Elementary School were told in March they'd be going on a field trip to see the film Beauty and the Beast at Pinnacle Hills Promenade in Rogers. The trip was canceled, however, after some parents raised concerns about the film's content, according to an email teachers sent to parents.
Debbie Jones, the School District's superintendent, said the trip was nixed mainly because the movie is rated "PG" and not "G." The district sanctions only G-rated movies for viewing by elementary school students, she said.
Aside from that, school administrators also were concerned about using instructional time to watch movies, Jones said.
"We don't just show movies and go see movies that don't support the curriculum," she said.
Tracy Hager, principal of Pea Ridge Primary School, said her teachers choose trips that complement what's being taught in their classroom.
Pea Ridge Primary students recently have traveled to the Amazeum, the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, the Peel Mansion, Wild Wilderness Drive-Through Safari, the Museum of Native American History and a pumpkin patch, Hager said.
"Teachers look at and use Arkansas state standards when planning which field trips are appropriate to assist in meeting those state standards," Hager said. "Teachers must get field trips approved by the building administrator before planning them."
It's not uncommon, however, for schools to offer their kids field trips as rewards for good performance or behavior.
Fayetteville's Holt Middle School uses what's called the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program, which has a component that rewards students for meeting and exceeding behavior expectations. Students have earned trips to Arvest Ballpark and the Boys & Girls Club through that program, according to Morningstar.
Springdale elementary school principals are allowed to choose up to 32 trips per year for their students. The goal is for all trips to be academically focused and able to be related to curriculum standards, according to Megan Slocum, associate superintendent for the district.
Slocum added it's important to allow students and teachers to maximize the time they spend together.
"There are only 178 student contact days and they are met with many competing events including field trips, family vacations, potential illness during the year, etc.," Slocum wrote in an email. "One of the best ways for students to learn is to be engaged in the lesson with their teacher and peers in their classroom."
NW News on 10/22/2017
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