How to Plan a State Park Field Trip
Taking your students on a field trip is a great experience, but it takes a little time to research and plan the best trip for your class. For some students, this may be their first trip into the outdoors. Set your students up for success by visiting the park’s website and sharing the adventure with your class.
This information will help you with the registration process and pre-trip preparation needed to make your trip a success. If at any time during your field trip experience you have questions or requests, talk to the park interpreter. Interpreters want the best experience for your group and will do all they can to ensure your class’ success.
CONTACTING DELAWARE STATE PARKS AND REGISTERING FOR YOUR PROGRAM
Setting up a field trip is a big job. We know your time is limited, so Delaware State Parks has made it as easy as possible for you to secure your date and prepare your students.
Once you have found programs that you are interested in, use the contact information at the top of the park page to reserve your classroom.
CHOOSING A DATE
When choosing your dates, think about what time of year you would like to make your visit. Most teachers like
to plan field trips in the spring, between mid-April and mid-June. The weather in the spring can make for a great field trip, but can sometimes conflict with testing. The fall can also be a popular time to book trips as the weather begins to change. Plan early to make sure you get the dates you want for your group.
Consider booking your field trip in the late fall, winter or early spring. If your program is not weather- or season- specific, you may have additional flexibility than in more popular months.
If you are planning to visit during the peak field trip months, you might find more flexibility scheduling afternoon start times for your programs. Most schools visit in the morning because bus schedules dictate their window of opportunity. If you have some flexibility in your day, or if you are registering for an overnight program at a park that offers them, an afternoon start time will ensure more available program dates.
Raising Funds in your school
When preparing for your field trip, one of the biggest jobs you will have is finding the funds to pay for your experience. There are many ways to pay for your trip, and your district may have guidelines and approved sources for funds. Here are a few suggestions for alternative ways to raise funds for your school’s outdoor learning experience.
Fundraisers are a great way to pay for your field trip. With many of the trips costing $4 – $8 per student, a fundraiser may be just what you need to cover your costs.
Many school parent organizations have a field trip fund for their teachers. Check with your PTA or PTO president to find out how to apply to use the funds. If they don’t already have such a fund, suggest that they start one for future years.
Most field trips are funded by parents so their children can participate. The teacher sends out a permission slip and collects money at the time of the student’s registration. Many families prefer this to a fundraiser because it takes less out of their busy lives than managing their child’s fund-raising activities. While this is an easier option for some families, it can exclude some students from attending.
District Funds for Contracted Programs:
Some school districts make agreements with specific parks to provide the funds for all students to participate in a program. They will pay for the programs through direct funds from the district and will coordinate the schedules and buses for all of the classes from a school or group of schools to go to the program. These opportunities are contracted between the district and the park many months in advance and are often funded through a reoccurring foundation or grant source. Check to see if your district has a history of these programs, and if your class can participate. If not, talk to your administrators about working with Delaware State Parks to start such a program for future years. In many cases, district-wide programs can be contracted for lower program rates.
Grant and foundation Funding
Awarding funds for field trip fees is a grassroots way for corporations and foundations to provide quality educational experiences for students in local areas. For example, one major retailer provides schools in each state a grant of up to $700 to help fund field trips for underserved students. In the 2010 – 2011 school years, seven schools in Delaware were able to take advantage of this program. Local utility companies and others offer similar grants to Delaware teachers. Another funnels money through local foundations in order to reach teachers who are in need of field trip funding. A little searching on the Internet will give you the details on how to apply for these funds. Your school or district offices are often aware of these programs and they are advertised to teachers through professional organizations and publications. While applying for grants can sometimes seem daunting, most foundations will make the process easy, and there may be experienced grant writers in your school’s administration who can help you. Delaware State Parks interpreters are willing to support you in your search for a grant. Contact them to discuss partnerships for grant applications.
Some of the Delaware State Parks offer scholarship money to cover student participation fees. Some even have money available to cover bus costs, often the largest per student cost for field trips. These funds are available through the park Friends groups. Check with the park that you are interested in visiting to learn more about who qualifies and how to apply.
Delaware State Parks accepts cash, credit cards and checks to pay for programs. The park interpreter will discuss payment options with you during the program registration process.
Time and again, teachers point to booking and paying for transportation as the biggest challenges
they face when planning a field trip. This doesn’t have to be the case. With some creative planning
and a little research, you may find a great, inexpensive way to visit your local state park.
Take a Walk:
You probably know which parks are closest to your school. If so, look into walking your students to the park. Map your walk ahead of time and talk to the park interpreter to see if they know if there are any short cuts. You might also be able to visit multiple times during the year if you are close enough to walk to the park. Children will enjoy being outside and will get the benefit of great exercise in addition to a fun field trip experience.
Scheduling a Bus:
If you can’t walk to the park you want to visit, you will have to schedule a bus. Most school districts offer field trip bus service with an additional fee per student. Scheduling can be an issue because these buses are shared among district schools and are the same ones used to transport students before and after school and to athletic events. With some creative scheduling, you may be able to get the most for your money. Try teaming up with another teacher to fill the bus. Each bus generally holds 54 students. You can double up with another class to fill the bus and cut down on the cost per student. To get around tight bus schedules, you might also be able to use the same bus to get multiple classes to a field trip site. The bus can take trips back and forth to transport students for staggered program start times. That way, more students can participate in the field trip in less time and within the small window of time that the bus isn’t used for its regular duties.
Free Bus Programs:
Some of the parks have free bus programs set up for the schools that visit them. Usually there is a distance restriction, or a school location restriction (i.e. free for schools visiting from a particular county). Like scholarship programs, these are funded by park Friends groups. Check with the park interpreters for more information about these programs.
Riding the DART Bus:
The DART Bus System is a little-used resource for field trip experiences. Check local schedules to see how many parks you can access. The per student cost of riding a DART bus is often less than riding a school bus, and you are giving your students a great lesson in community involvement and riding public transportation. Schools in big cities use public transportation to access field trip experiences all the time. DART also runs a school field trip program for grades 3 and up. Visit dartfirststate.com/information for details.
Generally, it is best to plan for buses to arrive on-site 15 minutes before your scheduled program time. That will allow you and your students time to get off the bus and take care of any housekeeping issues that need to be addressed. The park interpreter will establish a meeting location and bus parking during the registration process.
Lunch can be a great opportunity for students to take a break from learning — sometimes lunch can be as much of an event as the actual program! The park interpreter can identify picnic tables or areas available to your group to eat and play.
All Delaware State Parks have a carry-in, carry-out trash policy. If you choose not to reserve a pavilion, you will need to bring trash bags for your lunch trash so you can take it with you and dispose of it back at school. If you rent a pavilion, trash collection is provided as part of your rental fee.
Booking Multiple Programs/Parks
One way to get the most for your field trip dollar is to book multiple programs at parks that are near each other. The park interpreters are happy to work together to coordinate programs like these.