Head of the Class
With teachers and students eager to return to in-person field trips, the winter months are a great time to take a look at how a school field trip program can benefit attractions.
Not only can school field trips be an additional source of revenue, but they are a great way to introduce children and teenagers to an attraction in the hopes that over the years, they will become regular visitors and seasonal employees. Plus, teachers rely on museums, science centers, and other attractions to provide a learning experience they cannot replicate in the classroom.
For facilities that believe their school field trip program could use some extra credit, Funworld shares lessons on how attractions can make the honor roll in no time.
Making a Visit Accessible
Across the board, Funworld found that attractions differ on whether they charge admission for school field trips or open the doors as a benefit to the community. If operators do decide to charge admission, it’s wise to ensure the cost is something local schools can afford.
At Science Central in Fort Wayne, Indiana, School and Public Programs Manager Megan Price says it discounts their student and chaperone admission to help make field trips to their science center more accessible for schools.
“It helps us be able to provide education to kids who might not otherwise be able to come into Science Central, and who might not be able to afford to have us as a resource,” Price says.
Bus costs and gas prices can sometimes make field trips restrictive for educators. Some attractions have taken it upon themselves to defray some or all transportation costs for field trips.
TRIP TIP: Consider offering scholarships, sharing details online, and promoting offers on social media channels.
The Ringling in Sarasota, Florida, offers a bus scholarship program for schools coming to visit the 66-acre estate’s museums and other facilities. According to Brooke Wessel, school and teacher programs coordinator, the scholarship is funded through an endowment and schools can receive up to $600 toward transportation costs.
“For our area, that usually covers their entire fee for the bus,” Wessel says. “On a couple occasions we have people say it’s going to be $750 or $700, and we have granted those special requests.”
Look for Revenue Opportunities
Even without an admission charge, there are still opportunities for generating revenue through field trips.
For example, Wessel says although The Ringling does not charge admission for field trips, many times teachers and chaperones will visit the gift shop, as will families visiting through their home school program.
TRIP TIP: Be transparent with school leaders. Share how much money students should anticipate having in their pockets before visiting.
She also says some of the food options at The Ringling are income opportunities when schools are visiting. “We have two restaurants on campus, one cafe and two food trucks,” Wessel details. “Students don’t go to the restaurants, but they do go to the food trucks, which is revenue-building for us. And they go to the cafe a lot. Our cafe is a Starbucks and when that group of high schoolers come and they see a Starbucks, that’s going to be a big revenue generator.”
At the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum in Sterling, Virginia—which charges a discounted admission fee for schools—the museum created a large group field trip option, allowing teachers to bring more students to the museum at a time.
“In the past, we’ve always had one class at a time, but because our schools are so large, it makes it better for a public school to bring the entire class at the same time versus having to come multiple times to accommodate the number of students that they have,” explains Denise Mo, education and visitor engagement manager. “It also makes it easier on the staff as well. [And] with bigger numbers you’re bringing in for one day, you’re bringing in more income at the time.”
In addition, Mo supplies students visiting the museum with flyers advertising upcoming events, which she says entices them to come back to visit the museum in the future.
Hit the Standards
Kim Whitfield, exhibits and interpretive programming coordinator at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, California, says a top-notch field trip program has to connect whatever students are learning at the time.
“Fourth graders are studying in their Common Core in California Westward expansion in California history ... and that’s one of our primary storylines within (our) Horses to Horsepower program,” she gives as an example. “So our educational programming is going to be based on [California] Common Core [Standards] around westward movement and the transcontinental railroad.”
TRIP TIP: Attractions can hire local educators to create curriculum based on exhibits and displays that can tie into classroom lessons.
Wessel at The Ringling stresses the importance of ensuring educational programming content is not only relevant, but also fresh.
“Every year we try and do either a refresh of our tour plans that students will participate in on their school visits, or we refresh by adding new works of art or different things like that so that we’re always staying up to relevant content for them,” she explains. “We also write all of our curriculum through the Florida state standards, which we find to be very supportive for teachers.”
Know What Teachers Need
In addition to ensuring field trips are accessible and have appropriate content, it’s also important to make sure they are helpful to teachers.
At Science Central, Price says teachers appreciate how easy it is to book a field trip with them. “We plan their field trip for them, they like that,” she continues. “They just have to book it and then it’s pretty hands-off for them after that.”
She suggests attractions have a “streamlined website and registration process to where it’s a very simple thing for a teacher to be able to find the information; register for what they want; and then just have a registration manager reach out to make sure the date they initially requested isn’t already booked.”
TRIP TIP: Creating a “teacher panel” composed of educators will allow an attraction to get connected to school decision makers and learn how an attraction can benefit local schools.
Whitfield at the California State Railroad Museum suggests attractions create a teacher advisory committee and attend educator nights to find out what teachers in their local area need.
“Talking with educators, bringing teachers in to ask them questions about what they need from a field trip, what they need from a particular type of educational program, or what they just need in general, because they might need something that you don’t even know that you could provide for them,” Whitfield explains. “And then that creates a relationship with your local community teachers (and) provides feedback and benchmarking for programming.”
Stay the Course
As for attractions who may be struggling with their field trip programs, Mo at Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum urges them not to give up and to keep trying new things.
“A lot of people kind of get in ruts and [say,] ‘This is the way we’ve always done it’,” she says. “I’m always looking at what other programs are doing or how they’re doing things to try to improve upon what we’re doing. So just improve upon what you have or don’t be afraid to try something new.”