Inequities Discovered in Student Field Trips

Inequities Discovered in Student Field Trips

School board members, parents say poorer schools missing education enrichment

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Montgomery County public school students aren’t getting the same field trip experiences, with students in some poorer areas having fewer opportunities.

Students who go on field trips, regardless of their socioeconomic status, perform better in school, with nearly 60 percent reporting better grades and higher graduation rates, according to the nonprofit Student & Youth Travel Association.

The school system ensures all elementary schools have the opportunity to participate in at least one field trip, and many schools offer additional trips. But there are no similar guidelines at the high school level.

Cynthia Simonson, vice president of educational issues for the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, asked the school board at a recent public hearing to integrate field trip equity into new curriculum adopted earlier this month.

“We can do this better,” she said.

The school system estimates it would take $1.6 million to provide one trip per student — money that isn’t included in the proposed budget for next year.

County students took 2,099 field trips last school year to places across the region, such as the Maryland State House, colleges, national monuments and various museums, according to school data, which shows it costs an average of $300 to take a school bus on a single-day field trip, meaning the school system spent roughly $630,000 on buses for out-of-classroom experiences last school year.

But not all experiences were equal.

Most field trips occur during second-, fourth- and fifth-grades, with those pupils taking twice as many trips as other grades, according to school district data.

But the distribution of field trips among elementary schools varied greatly.

For example, students at Glenallan Elementary School in Silver Spring took 43 field trips, while Arcola elementary students took four trips. Both schools have enrollments of about 700 students, but Arcola’s percentage of students on free- or reduced-meal plans is higher at 81 percent, compared to Glenallan’s 65 percent.

Some schools with a high percentage of students in poverty took no field trips during that time frame, according to the school system.

“That is a problem because field trips enrich what happens in the classroom,” District 3 school board member Pat O’Neill said. “Finding some way to level the playing field is important.”

School board members have been questioning field trip equity.

Field trips are funded at the individual school an activity fund, maintained through fundraisers and other events, and some “have more access than others,” a school spokesperson said.

Students who can’t afford expenses associated with a field trip — like lunch — are still able to participate using money from the activity fund.

To provide one free field trip per student at an average cost of $10 per student, the school system estimates it would need about $1.6 million – or less than 1 percent of its overall budget.

While she believes creating equity is important, O’Neill said she couldn’t pledge an effort to make equitable field trips a reality.

“We need to work on class size, for example, and there are so many holes in our budget we need to address,” O’Neill said.

District 5 board member Brenda Wolff echoed her colleague but said she believes the school system needs to take a close look at what schools are getting more opportunities and why, and devise an action plan.

“I don’t know what it is yet, but there has to be an answer,” Wolff said. “If it results in disparate opportunities, we have to find a solution.”

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