Como Friends’ Contributions Help Fund School Partnerships and Science Literacy
Taking a field trip to Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is a tradition nearly every Minnesotan can remember. But for many school districts this fall, the funding for outside the classroom experiences is getting harder to come by.
That’s why Como Friends and Como’s Education Department are working together to provide every second grade classroom in the St. Paul public schools with their own field trip program and transportation to and from Como—all for no cost to schools, students or parents.
“This program was really inspired by the great response we’ve received for our new Residency Program and the colorful Como bus that delivers classrooms to our campus,” says Susie Van Blaircom, Como’s Education & Conservation Curator. “Our school partners tell us the cost of transportation can be a big barrier to field trip access, so we started looking at how we could deploy and dispatch the Como bus during the hours when the Residency Program students are at work.”
Starting in September, the Como bus will collect second graders from one or two St. Paul schools every week day, and deliver them to Como for an enriched, two-hour field trip program taught by one of Como’s degreed education specialists. Students will concentrate their studies in the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, using Como’s plant collections and public gardens as the starting point for writing about what they observe—a program that will also help participating classrooms fulfill statewide standards focused on science and literacy.
Did You Know?
- Every year, Como welcomes school field trip groups from more than 60 Minnesota counties.
- Como’s new second grade field trip program could bring as many as 3,200 St. Paul public school students to Como this school year.
- Como’s education staff takes their conservation curriculum on the road to area schools. Last year, off-site programs reached nearly 5,600 Minnesota students.
“Schools generally have a lot of reading material and resources about animals, which are often the gateway for learning about the natural world,” say Steph Kappel, Como’s Conservation Engagement Coordinator. “But in the primary grades, they often lack books and curriculum tools related to plants and natural habitats, which is what makes Como’s horticultural resources and gardens such a great fit.”
Finding new ways to connect Como’s educational resources with the community is becoming a growing part of the mission of Como Friends, which is providing 100 percent of the funding for the Second Grade Field Trip program through contributions from people like you. “During back-to-school season, we’re reminded how many classrooms face tough choices about how to spend very limited resources,” says Jackie Sticha, president of Como Friends. “We want Como to be a good partner in providing high-quality education opportunities to all students, so we’re thrilled to be inviting our closest neighbors in the St. Paul schools to come for a great day of conservation education, free of charge.”
The nonprofit fundraising partner to Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, Como Friends’ partnerships with corporate sponsors and family foundations help to provide for a variety of education programming every year. For instance, grants from the Donald Weesner Yellow Bus Fund help provide “scholarships” to schools that would not otherwise not be able to afford bus transportation to Como. Como Friends funding has also allowed Como to expand its popular “ZooSkillz” program, created in partnership with the Autism Society of Minnesota.
Como’s Cupid the penguin is just one of the animal ambassadors who regularly hits the road to bring School Group Programs to classrooms around the community, a program funded in part by contributions to Como Friends. See the lesson plan Liberty Ridge Elementary School used to bring a month-long study of penguins memorably to life
Como Friends also provides major funding to underwrite the cost of special School Group Programs that reached nearly 13,000 students in 2015. While programs like “Tropical Rain Forests” and “North Pole Explorers” depend on Como’s Tropical Encounters and Polar Bear Odyssey habitats to drive the lessons home, many other courses can be taken on the road and presented to classrooms outside the metro area. Animal ambassadors like Cupid the penguin often go along for the ride, creating lesson plans about conservation that students will remember for a lifetime.
“As a public/private partnership, we can be a bridge that helps give more kids access to the great things going on at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory every day,” says Sticha. “At Como Friends, we’ve worked hard to protect the free admission that so many families depend on, and we want to make sure that the Como field trip is a memory that Minnesota school kids share for many years to come.”
To help send a class to Como, donate here!