Despite all the new technology that can be found in today’s classrooms — such as interactive whiteboards and automated student response systems — there’s one old-fashioned learning experience that still works wonders: field trips.
And some very cool ones the San Diego Unified School District had to suspend in 2010 because of budget cuts are on their way back — at least in abbreviated forms.
Field trips to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park for fourth-graders now have funding and are returning. Efforts are also under way to bring back visits to Balboa Park for fifth-graders. Additionally, a Mission Trails Regional Park outdoor venture for sixth-graders started last fall. But all three programs will need continued private funding to keep them active.
“We get to see their smiles again,” said Agin Shaheed, program manager of the district’s Race, Human Relations and Advocacy Department, which organizes the field trips. “We have children whose grandparents went on these trips. That’s how far they go back.”
Both the district and Old Town officials wanted to restore the tours to the birthplace of San Diego in some fashion. Nearby the state park is the site where the first Spanish settlement in California was established in 1769. For fourth-graders, visiting was a rite of passage. The only problem: Money.
The solution: a golf tournament.
Once the Old Town Chamber of Commerce got word that bringing back the tours was a possibility, an avalanche of support resulted. At the time, it just so happened that a golf tournament was being planned to support the chamber. Instead, it was agreed that the money raised should go to the tours.
The chamber teamed with PGA Golf Professional Hall of Famer and San Diego native Billy Casper to put on the event, which was held March 18. The goal was to raise $40,000 to pay for the transportation costs for the students.
And talk about a scorecard. The event raised $77,000.
“Yes, we were pleasantly surprised,” said Richard Stegner, Old Town Chamber executive director.
Stegner said the chamber hopes to make the golf tournament an annual fundraiser.
He said the tours pull at heartstrings. They had been around for four decades, and many of the donations came from people who went through the program when they were children.
The Old Town tour used to be quite the experience. Before being disbanded, it was a weeklong immersion and was part of the district’s Off-Campus Integrated Learning Experiences program.
Under the same program, fifth graders spent a week at Balboa Park and sixth-graders went roughing it for a week at an outdoor camp at Palomar Mountain.
Even though the new Old Town trip will be a one-day affair, it will still be a huge benefit for the children, Stegner said.
“It’s nice to read about history and see pictures in a book, but there’s nothing like coming here and seeing it,” he said.
Children can watch a working blacksmith, for instance. They can see him heat the metal red hot and bang and shape it with his tools, he said.
“There’s no replacing that.”
The tours also benefit the business community. Having visited, children are more apt to return with their families, Stegner said.
The San Diego Unified School District is also working with the Mission Trails Regional Park to send sixth-graders to that park. The Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation got a $25,000 grant from San Diego Gas & Electric to fund the trips, said Jay Wilson, the foundation’s executive director.
It was done to replace — as best it could — the Palomar Mountain venture. Wilson went there when he was a sixth-grader in 1953.
“We were looking to create an educational and environmental aspect of that program,” he said.
The foundation has enough money to fund the program next year. After that, it will need more funding.
An effort is just beginning to raise money to bring fifth-graders back to Balboa Park, though that is in the early stages, said Shaheed.
Some schools have already expressed interest in going to Old Town in what’s left of this school year, he said.
And for the 2013-14 school year? Shaheed said he expects “an avalanche.” He is hopeful private donations or grants will continue to support the programs.