With many area school districts tightening their belts, field trips have largely gone by the wayside.
The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor is looking to change that this fall with an $8,000 grant recently awarded by the National Park Foundation.
The grant is part of the “Ticket to Ride” program, which pays travel expenses for school trips to and from 35 national parks and heritage areas across the country including the Erie Canal.
Eight New York school districts and more than 1,400 children are expected to visit the canal this fall thanks to the grant. There are historical sites all along the canal, but in the greater Capital Region, the main attraction is Schoharie Crossing in Fort Hunter.
“This is really going to boost the number of kids to come through here this fall,” said Schoharie Crossing education coordinator Tricia Shaw. “We usually get some school groups in the spring, but in past years it’s dwindled.”
She said that while Tropical Storms Irene and Lee didn’t help, school budget issues are mostly to blame for the decrease in school trips to the historical site.
Years ago, 700 students would come through the site each season. Now the 200 fourth-graders she expects the grant will bring in is a windfall number of students.
Shaw said they’ll get the usual fourth-grade treatment: tours of the Fort Hunter ruins, a canal scavenger hunt, walks along the tow path and lunch by the old lock — in all, a welcome respite from the average day in the classroom.
Three Montgomery County schools are planning to send kids to Schoharie Crossing, including the 50 fourth-graders of St. Johnsville Central School.
“It’s fun and it doesn’t cost us a thing,” said St. Johnsville Elementary Principal Christopher Fatta, “which is why we can do it.”
St. Johnsville has its own buses. Fatta said the grant will reimburse the district for the cost of gas and the driver’s pay. He estimated the trip will cost the Heritage Corridor about $200 of their grant.
It’s a very small cost, but enough to prevent the fourth-grade trip if the grant hadn’t come through. “If we didn’t have this grant, I can pretty much tell you we wouldn’t be going on this field trip,” he said.
When Fatta got into education more than a decade ago, he said most classes went on four field trips a year. Now each grade is limited to one per year.
“Most of the extracurriculars go with the funding,” he said, “We’re very grateful to the grant program. Without this extra stuff, our kids would be missing out on life experiences and you can’t put a price tag on that.”
The St. Johnsville fourth-graders will spend Oct. 19 at Schoharie Crossing. Students from Marie Curie Elementary School in Amsterdam and Fort Plain Central School will also take advantage of the grant.
“We have tremendous canal historic sites from Buffalo to Albany,” Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Executive Director Beth Sciumeca said in a statement, “but the cost of bringing students to them has become prohibitive for many districts. This grant removes that barrier so that students can experience firsthand the innovation and impact of the Erie Canal.”
For more information on the “Ticket to Ride” program visit www.nationalparks.org/our-work/programs/ticket-ride.