Funding field trips for all in the Sioux Falls area

It’s officially spring in KELOLAND and that means field trip season is about to begin at popular children’s destinations all over the area.

This year even more kids than usual will be able to make these memorable trips thanks to the help of several organizations passionate about funding field trips for all.

“Everybody who is an adult has a childhood memory of going to the zoo as part of a field trip. It’s a great chance to learn by actually seeing and doing,” Great Plains Zoo Education and Engagement Manager Leigh Spencer said.

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

“It’s a way that they are connecting with what they’re learning about and it’s going to be something that they remember,” Audrey Otto, the CEO of the Butterfly House and Aquarium said.

But it’s a memorable moment in education many kids have missed out on.

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

It’s why Steve Hildebrand created the Promising Futures Fund in 2019, working to help make sure more students can take part in these educational enrichments.

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

This year the Promising Futures Fund is working with 12 title one schools in Sioux Falls to help fund kindergarten through 5th grade field trips to the Great Plains Zoo thanks to a partnership between the two nonprofits.

“Kids learn a lot from animals by watching them, observing them, seeing them in real life versus just learning about them in the classroom,” Spencer said.

“All of the kids are in school, they’re learning with their books, maybe they’re watching some videos online, but it’s not the same thing as experiencing something in person. Here at the Butterfly House and Aquarium, when the students come through they are interacting with nature, in a way they don’t get to do in other places,” Otto said.

The Butterfly House and Aquarium also provides free school field trips for k-5th graders every spring thanks to a longtime sponsorship from a Sioux Falls family.

“With this program we’ve had over 60,000 K-5th just kids coming through,” Otto said. “We’re having about 3,000 kids come through each year for free during the spring field trip season.”

These field trips might be their first chance to wave at a monkey at the zoo or a chance to hold a butterfly for the very first time. Hildebrand says these field trips provide a lot of first time experiences kids may not have otherwise.

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

It’s why the promising futures fund is also providing extra funding for 5th grade students to go on a special full day field trip somewhere around the region. Hildebrand says this year most of the title one school chose to take their 5th grade students to the Omaha Zoo for the day.

“Kids really need a chance to have enriched activities. Their seven hours of academics are great, our schools are phenomenal in Sioux Falls, but getting them out and opening their eyes to what’s around them is such an important opportunity. They need that enrichment, its why families take vacations,” Hildebrand said.

“A lot of those children, they have 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 this really is their aquarium experience and butterfly experience here in Sioux Falls ,” Otto said.

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

“It’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 greatest things we can offer kids because there’s so much outside of their own communities, especially small town South Dakota, that they can experience and that can change their lives,” Wagner Science Teacher Carrie Tucek said.

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

“There are materials at this facility that our kids, being land locked, 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 opportunity to experience a classic childhood field trip.

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

Schools within 150 mile radius can still sign up for free field trips this spring at the Butterfly House and Aquarium.

The Promising Futures Fund is also funding several summer camp opportunities for kids who qualify in the Sioux Falls area this summer.

The Great Plains Zoo also started the Zoo for All program, giving economically disadvantaged families an opportunity to experience the zoo for free or reduced price admission with the proof of being part of state assistance programs like SNAP, TANF or WIC.

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