Sixth-graders go to Allerton Park; seventh-graders, to Brookfield Zoo
CHAMPAIGN — At Franklin Middle School, field trips to Allerton Park near Monticello for sixth-graders and Brookfield Zoo in the Chicago suburbs for seventh-graders tie in with what the students learn in class and give them a chance to see science at work in real life.
But there's an obstacle: Students have had to chip in to help pay for the trips, which can be a struggle for those who parents can't afford it.
Until now. Two biodiversity grants from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will help pay for the Brookfield Zoo trip this spring and the Allerton Park trip next fall.
In the past, said Dave Mast, a sixth-grade science teacher and Franklin's science building leader, the school has accepted food donations to defray lunch costs and asked parents who are able to consider paying the $7 student fee for a child who can't afford the Allerton trip.
"If (the grant) can cover everything, we can really focus on the trip itself rather than the fundraising," he said.
The field trip ties in directly with the sixth-grade science curriculum, Mast said, as students first learn "everything you can imagine about the pond ecosystem," including the kinds of plants and animals that live there, water quality and even microscopic organisms that can be found there.
"We go (to Allerton Park) and the kids already know what we're talking about," Mast said. "It's a true enhancement of the curriculum."
The Allerton Park grant is $1,920, and the Brookfield Zoo grant is $5,000.
The latter will pay for the charter buses to take seventh-graders to the zoo this spring, said seventh-grade science teacher Rachel Nodine.
In the past, the trip has cost students around $25 for their share of the charter bus and activity fee at the zoo.
"It costs a lot of money," she said.
With the buses paid for, the fee for students will be around $5 for a presentation about animal habitats native to Illinois.
The zoo trip is valuable for students because it ties into the seventh-grade science curriculum that teaches students about systems in the human body, then about animals' systems and how they adapt to their environments, Nodine said.
The Brookfield Zoo presentation will teach students about animal adaptations they can see "daily when they go outside," Nodine said. It's also nice to take students there because many times, students aren't able to visit a place like the zoo on their own.
"It's nice to show them something they would not be able to see," Nodine said.
The grants, from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, came about via a donation from the Chicago-based Independence Tube Corp. to the Illinois Conservation Foundation, which passed the money to the state agency, said department spokesman Chris McCloud.
The grants are specifically for biodiversity field trips.
"Biodiversity literally means the diversity of life within a given ecosystem," Mast said.
Therefore, the grant focuses on field trips that help students understand how ecosystems work and the differences of life forms within a given region, he said.
Superintendent Judy Wiegand said in a news release that the Champaign school district continues to "aggressively" pursue grants.
"This is a wonderful example of our teachers taking the initiative to pursue grants that will directly benefit student learning here in Unit 4 and offset some of the cost to families to experience these enriching opportunities," Wiegand said.