This story comes to us from NBC Latino
Education cuts coast to coast means fewer kids are going to art museums, concerts, scientific exhibitions, cultural institutions and nature sites.
Three heavily Latino-populated areas – Miami-Dade County in Florida, San Antonio, Texas and Los Angeles, California – have experienced severe cuts in feel-good, supplemental learning excursions in elementary through high school.
These cuts have a direct impact on the number of field trips taken by schools like the 186th Street Elementary School in Gardena, Los Angeles. Teachers at the school – whose student population is 65% Latino – used to be able to take children on 3 district approved field trips per class, per year. Now budget cuts have forced the school to cut out field trips completely. Even the lure of free admission to a venue or experience isn’t enough – teachers have “no way” of providing transportation since the schools have to pay for the buses themselves said Ana Infante, an English language development literacy coordinator at 186th Street Elementary.
“Even when our PTA raises money for buses to supplement transportation funds, it’s not enough,” said Infante. Infante, who’s been on the 186th Elementary faculty for 19 years, is part of a school-wide effort to bring presentations and activities directly to the kids. However, the effect “isn’t the same” explained Infante. “We want our kids to dream big but they can’t if they don’t know what’s out there.”
It’s a feeling that Gabriela Martinez, Associate Vice President for Education at the Museum of Latin American Art in nearby Long Beach, shares. “Exposure to Latino art and artists really works wonders in raising a kid’s self-esteem and developing crucial thinking skills,” says Martinez. Student visits to the museum in 2011 dropped 19% from attendance in 2010 and Martinez, who recently launched and designed an interdisciplinary social studies arts curriculum that incorporates concepts like immigration, industrialization, cultural affairs and social criticism with works of art in the museum, says that she predicts that the budget and transportation cuts will cause student visitation to drop even further this year.
State support for field trips is also lagging in San Antonio, where state lawmakers cut $4 billion dollars in public education funding last year. The effect of the federal cuts and discretionary grants has had a huge impact on schools in the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio.
“Unfortunately there’s been a real decrease in the number of field trips for middle and high school students because we’ve had to absorb state cuts,” said Pascual Gonzalez, a spokesman for the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, the state’s fourth most populous school district. Gonzalez says the district’s biggest challenge is to cover food, transportation, field fees and admission for every student to go on a field trip – and those are funds that are hard to come by. Trips to free and historic sites like the Alamo and the San Antonio River Walk are a favorite of teachers these days, who cover field trip costs with funds raised by neighborhood parents. Their efforts are being supplemented by cultural institutions like the McNay Museum, which has offered to reimburse San Antonio-area schools for bus transportation costs.
“Statistics prove that students that are involved in the arts are more likely to stay in school,” says Kate Carey, the museum’s director of education. She hopes that exhibits like the upcoming “Estampas de la Raza: Contemporary Print from the Romo Collection” will inspire youth and “plant a seed for creative thinking and learning” with its emphasis on San Antonio-based Latino artists.
In Florida, the current economic climate – the worst it’s been in a decade – has made a projected $2 billion dollar shortfall for the calendar year a primary issue on the legislative agenda.
“We always have to weigh the fact that we want to expose our kids to the arts, but now it’s at the expense of preparing our students for college and the future, says Benny Valdez, principal of Miami Senior High School. “It’s a principal’s responsibility to appoint a place for cultural education within the curriculum, but finding the flexibility in your budget can be a challenge.” This year, Valdez will be relying on educational initiatives like Miami-Dade’s Cultural Passport Program – which receives funds through the Knight Foundation and private grants – to help expand the school’s field trip offerings.
The program partners with cultural and arts organizations to offer students K-12 a different cultural field experience each year and is “an effort to ensure that students will be exposed to enriching cultural experiences, despite years of budget cuts,” said Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, who spearheaded the program’s creation in 2009.
Orlinda Garcia, the program’s community liaison, says that budget cuts in Miami-Dade County push her to arrange for students to attend activities and cultural events that ordinarily wouldn’t be made available to them.
“It’s enriching for me to hear feedback from teachers that these trips have an impact on young people,” said Garcia. She added that as a result of budget cuts, more Latino parents are stepping up as chaperones and providing transportation to events, explaining “they’re willing to do whatever they need to support their child.”
While no one knows what cuts lay in the future for Miami-Dade county schools, Garcia knows one thing for certain about the value of field trips.
“It could be ballet or a museum, but we want to show kids a path towards achievement and pride,” Garcia said. ““It has such an impact on their identity, how they see the future and how they pursue knowledge.”
Check out our list of inexpensive places to take students around the country.
Nina Terrero is a reporter with NBC Latino
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