August 11, 2014

Field trips for third-graders to historic sites unlikely this year

A drive launched by the Charlotte Museum of History to raise $25,000 to underwrite Mecklenburg field trips this year to an 18th-century homestead and other sites has raised only a few hundred dollars toward covering bus expenses for 11,000 third-graders.

A campaign has fallen short, and time is running out to raise money to underwrite Mecklenburg third-grade field trips this year to an 18th-century homestead and other sites.

A drive by the Charlotte Museum of History and the Charlotte Regional History Consortium to raise $25,000 has raised only a few hundred dollars toward covering bus expenses for 11,000 pupils.

For years, third-graders have visited the Museum of History, Historic Rosedale, the President James K. Polk State Historic Site, Rural Hill, Historic Latta Plantation or the Mint Hill Historical Village. But county money to pay for the bus trips was cut after the recession gripped Charlotte in 2009.

As a temporary solution, the Arts & Science Council, with major donors Wells Fargo and Bank of America, came up with $338,000 annually to pay for the third-grade expeditions, plus field trips for fifth- and six-graders to other cultural and educational destinations, including Discovery Place. This year, the ASC’s annual drive raised $800,000 less than its target of $6.9 million and the ASC announced in July it could not pay for the trips.

Last year, more than 51,000 Mecklenburg students in the three grades participated in field trips. They ranged from performances by the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte to visits to Mint Museum Uptown, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture and Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in tandem with curriculum in history, social studies and language arts.

Nearly 11,000 Mecklenburg sixth-graders from 40 schools and 400 classrooms came to Discovery Place to study robotics and other STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math.

Through the ASC’s Power to Give website, the Charlotte Museum of History launched a drive to raise enough to pay for the buses for the third-grade trip but as of midday Tuesday it had raised $740.

Even if that goal is reached, more money would be needed to pay for study materials and other costs, said Kay Peninger, executive director at the Charlotte Museum of History, though salaries could cut by asking museums to volunteer. Ideally, she said, it would be good to raise $75,000 to cover all costs.

A look at olden days

Students who come to the historic sites get to see first-hand what life was like centuries ago. One destination is the Hezekiah Alexander House, a two-story stone house built in 1774 believed to be the oldest structure in Mecklenburg County.

“Our history is taught and learned so much better when they visit a site and see it first-hand versus hearing about it,” Peninger said.

“By visiting these sites, they’re like primary-source documents. They see how Charlotteans lived in different points in time. This is one of the few opportunities they have to attend something like this.”

Children visiting the house learn how springs were used to refrigerate food, how meals were prepared and clothing was made, she said. “They see how a child might have lived and played 240 years ago.”

Logistics take time

Peninger said the museum got advance word on June 27 that the ASC would be unable to pay for the trips. If the trips are going to occur, a commitment is needed soon so there is time to work out the logistics with the county’s 104 elementary schools.

“At this point, we’re operating with the understanding there won’t be trips this year,” said Ann Clark, deputy superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. “They have to be scheduled over an extended amount of time and we don’t do trips in December or May.”

Clark said the school district learned about the same time as the museum that ASC couldn’t afford the trips. “Obviously, getting this news at the beginning of the school year was not a great time for working it through our budget,” she said. There is a possibility, she said, of finding grant money to cover some costs.

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