Funding for field trips for all in the Sioux Falls area

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) – It’s officially spring in KELOLAND and that means field trip season is about to begin at popular children’s destinations across the region.

This year, even more children than usual will be able to go on these memorable outings thanks to the help of several organizations passionate about funding educational outings for all.

“All adults have a childhood memory of going to the zoo as part of a field trip. It’s a great opportunity to learn by seeing and actually doing,” said Leigh Spencer, head of the education and engagement at Great Plains Zoo.

Field trips provide hands-on experiences that leave a lasting impact.

“It’s a way for them to connect with what they’re learning and it’s going to be something they’ll remember,” said Audrey Otto, CEO of Butterfly House and Aquarium.

But it’s a memorable moment in upbringing that many children have missed.

“With the field trips and outside experiences, most of it is funded by the PTA/PTO in those schools that we work with, those title one schools, they don’t have a lot of parent involvement and they don’t don’t have much access to funds,” said Steve Hildebrand, founder of the Promising Futures Fund.

That’s why Steve Hildebrand created the Promising Futures Fund in 2019, working to ensure that more students can participate in these educational enrichments.

“It’s our number one goal is to create equity in education so that every child has the same access. It’s not their fault they were born into poverty,” Hildebrand said.

This year, the Promising Futures Fund is working with twelve Title 1 schools in Sioux Falls to help fund K-5 field trips to the Great Plains Zoo.

“Children learn a lot from animals by looking at them, observing them, seeing them in real life rather than just learning about them in the classroom,” Spencer said.

“All the kids are in school, they’re learning with their books, maybe they’re watching videos online, but it’s not the same as experiencing something in person. Here at Butterfly House and Aquarium, when the students pass by, they interact with nature, in a way that they cannot do elsewhere,” Otto said.

The Butterfly House and Aquarium also offers free field trips for K-5 students each spring thanks to the longtime sponsorship of a Sioux Falls family.

“With this program, we’ve had over 60,000 children from kindergarten through 5th grade,” Otto said. “We welcome approximately 3,000 children each year for free during the spring field trip season.”

These field trips could be their first chance to greet a monkey at the zoo or a chance to hold a butterfly for the very first time. Hildebrand says these field trips provide many early experiences children might not otherwise have.

“The kids we work with, the vast majority live in poor neighborhoods, they don’t have the opportunity to get out of those neighborhoods and experience all that Sioux Falls has to offer or frankly the area has to offer,” said said Hildebrand.

That’s why the Bright Futures Fund also provides extra funding for Grade 5 students to go on a special full-day field trip somewhere in the area. Hildebrand says that this year, most first-grade schools chose to take their 5th graders to the Omaha Zoo for the day.

“Children really need the chance to have enriched activities. Their seven hours of classes are great, our schools are phenomenal in Sioux Falls, but getting them outside and opening their eyes to what’s around them is such an important opportunity. They need this enrichment, which is why families take vacations,” Hildebrand said.

“A lot of these kids, they’ve never been to our facility, never been able to go to a larger community to experience their aquarium, let alone go to the ocean, so that’s really their aquarium experience and their butterfly experience here in Sioux Falls,” Otto said.

For some students, these field trips may be the closest thing to a vacation and the broader educational enrichments they provide.

“That’s why families take vacations to national parks or state parks, it’s a learning opportunity,” Hildebrand said.

“I think field trips are one of the best things we can offer kids because there’s so much outside of their own communities, especially small towns in South Dakota, that they can experience. and that can change their lives,” said Carrie Tucek, science professor at Wagner.

Tucek recently brought her high school chemistry class to the Butterfly House and Aquarium in Sioux Falls to study coral reef chemistry.

“There are materials in this facility that our kids, being landlocked, don’t have access to and it opens up a whole new world for them,” Tucek said.

A whole new perspective that could spark a new passion or new career possibilities, all thanks to the chance to experience a classic childhood excursion.

“What we’re trying to do is provide that equity so they have a chance to grow and be what they want in their future,” Hildebrand said.

Schools within 150 miles can still sign up for free field trips this spring to the Butterfly House and Aquarium.

The Promising Futures Fund is also funding several summer camp opportunities for qualifying children in the Sioux Falls area this summer.

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