COVID-19 shut down field trips and offsite travel in 2020 and this school year marks the first time in three years that travel restrictions have been fully lifted across the state. While the history and landscape of New York may not have changed much during that period, there are more ways than ever to access it.
Un“locking” the Erie Canal
The Erie Canal is a central piece of New York state history. To help classes explore all the canal system has to offer, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and New York State Canal Corporation recently launched the Erie Canal Learning Hub, an online portal for teachers to access lesson plans, videos and virtual tours of the waterway.
Donna Mosher, sixth grade science teacher and member of the South Seneca Teachers Association, authored one of the lesson plans, “A Walk Across the Bottom of Seneca Lake.”
“My students at South Seneca live dead center between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, which both lead into the Erie Canal. Our school district literally spans the distance, shore to shore, between those two lakes,” said Mosher. “These lakes are my students’ backyards - high interest!” Mosher worked directly with researchers who were photographing the lake bottom to produce a lesson focused on analyzing the artifacts they uncovered.
Educators can also give students the opportunity to experience the canal directly, through the Ticket to Ride Program. Ticket to Ride covers bus and tour fees for students at 14 designated canal sites between Albany and Lockport, including several museums and historic sites.
For more info, visit eriecanalway.org/learning-hub
Connect Kids grant program
New York state has an extensive system of parks and historic sites that educators can incorporate into their curriculum. To get more students into the parks, the office operates the Connect-Kids-to-Parks Field Trip Grant Program, which reimburses schools up to $80 per student for field trips to participating sites.
“We had a fantastic end-of-the-year Niagara Falls field trip for our seventh graders at Amherst Middle School,” said Nancy Claxton, Amherst Educators Association. With support from Connect Kids, her students were able to climb aboard the Maid of The Mist boat tour and then visit the Cave of The Winds.
“The students started the adventure by taking an elevator 175 feet below the ground. They were able to walk on a set of stairs only 150 feet from the base of the falls and view this beauty,” said Claxton. “We learned about geology in our backyard.”
“The Connect Kids program continues to grow among environmental educators across New York state,” said Yolanda Bostic Williams, chief diversity and inclusion officer for the state Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation. Since the debut of the program in 2016, Connect Kids has reimbursed schools more than $5.2 million — $1.4 million in the last year alone.
“I took my fifth-grade students to Bear Mountain State Park because we had spent a good portion of the year talking about ecosystems, food chains, symbiotic relationships, and the water cycle,” said Krista Espinoza, member of the Newburgh Teachers Association. “Being in the park allowed us to hike and explore the local deciduous forest, stroll around the lake, and see some of the local wildlife species in the zoo area. So many of our students had never been there before, even though we all live just 25 minutes away!” The trip couldn’t have happened without assistance from the Connect Kids program, she added.
When planning their trips, teachers can choose from 12 different hatcheries, four environmental education centers, or one of the many state forests. The office also operates 30 staffed nature centers and six regional hubs, one of which offers overnight stays.
“Parks can cover a large variety of subjects from historical lessons, marine habitats, the Great Lakes ecosystems, to Indigenous communities and more,” Williams said. The grants also cover entry and programming at 37 different historic sites, which commemorate famous figures and events spanning 400 years of state history.
Applications for grants are accepted on a rolling basis. For more info, visit parks.ny.gov/environment/connect-kids/grant-program.aspx.