Wednesday, June 19, 2013
SKOWHEGAN -- On a recent Thursday afternoon, fourth-grade students at Bloomfield Elementary School examined owl skulls and the webbed feet of a loon. They made drawings of birds and searched for bones in owl pellets.
Kids at the Bloomfield Academy in Skowhegan learn about birds as L.C. Bates Museum Educator Serena Sanborn talks about the contents of owl pellets the kids picked through on Thursday. The pellets, regurgitated food that can not be digested, was sanitized for the class.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Bloomfield Academy student Porcha Rowlett casts a weary eye toward the owl skull being shown by L.C. Bates Museum educator Serena Sanborn during a presentation on birds at the Skowhegan school on Thursday.
Staff photo by David Leaming
They also practiced their writing by taking notes for a journal entry.
The activities are part of a series of weekly visits from the L.C. Bates Museum in Fairfield. The museum runs an educational outreach program that takes exhibits to schools, helping them save on transportation costs while still giving children an opportunity to explore beyond the classroom.
The Bloomfield fourth-grade classroom is one of about 106 in the area to incorporate the growing program into their curriculum. Once a week the class welcomes Serena Sanborn, one of three teachers at the museum, who brings a different exhibit from the museum's natural science collection.
"The number of field trips we can take is limited, so it's a more economical and acceptable solution to get kids access to things we don't have," said their teacher, Peter Hockmeyer.
"A lot of schools don't have money for field trips, so this is a way of bringing the museum to the school," said Deborah Staber, the museum's director. "It doesn't cost the museum anything because it's funded with grant money, and the schools don't have to pay for busing. It's a win-win," she said.
The program started in 2006 with one part-time teacher going to five or six classrooms, Staber said. Last year it reached about 60 or 70 classrooms. Since then, it has grown to reach 106 classrooms in 17 schools and 10 pre-schools this year, she said.
Staber said demand has grown at the same time the museum has seen fewer school field trips coming to it.
"There is definitely a need. Fewer schools are providing busing to come to the museum, and that is true across the country. There's just a huge drop in the number of field trips everywhere," she said.
Realizing that need was one of the reasons the museum started its educator program, which is funded by grants from a variety of sources, Staber said. Some of the money comes form the national Institute of Museums and Library Services. Some comes from local donors such as Skowhegan Savings Bank, Franklin Savings Bank and the Plum Creek Timber Co.
Rising costs, tighter budgets
Brent Colbry, superintendent for Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54, where the Bloomfield school is located, said there have been fewer field trips in the district in recent years because of concerns about lost instructional time and lack of revenue.
"The loss of instructional time was really quite a concern when we were going on more field trips," Colbry said. The district also has less money because of state funding cuts and money following some students to charter schools, he said.
Colbry said he anticipates a tight budget in the upcoming school year, and the district is determining the financial effect of Gov. Paul LePage's proposed cuts to education funding.
"Because of our lack of revenue, we have had to reduce spending wherever we can. Transportation is really a focal point of that," he said.
Each grade is allowed to go on two field trips within the district each year, he said.
Fitting museum visits into curriculum
The Bloomfield fourth-graders haven't gone on any science-related field trips this year, Hockmeyer said, and the museum program is a way of letting them explore things in nature that they might not see otherwise.
Because of scheduling limitations, Sanborn comes to the class during their language arts period, so Hockmeyer said he has incorporated writing into the visit. Students take notes during the visit so they can write journal entries later on.
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