Transportation and Inspiration

Como’s free field trip partnership with St. Paul Public Schools invites second grade classrooms across the city to discover nature’s wonders

Last September, Como Friends launched an exciting educational partnership with the St. Paul Public Schools, inviting every second grade classroom in the city to take part in a free field trip to Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. By the end of the school year, 74 classrooms from around St. Paul had taken us up on the offer to spend an afternoon exploring one of Minnesota’s most vibrant education destinations—all with no cost to the district, 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 VanBlaircom, 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.”

Did You Know?

  • Como Friends provided 100 percent of the funding to launch the new Second Grade Field Trip program, which served nearly 800 students in its pilot run last year.
  • Como is Minnesota’s most visited conservation education center, welcoming an estimated 897,000 visitors under the age of 18 each year.
  • While students from Como’s surrounding communities are the most frequent field trip visitors, Como also welcomes outstate students from more than 60 counties every year.

Over the 2016-17 school year, that Como coach bus collected nearly 800 second graders from nearby schools and brought them to Como for a three-hour field trip experience, complete with a classroom curriculum that supports Minnesota’s statewide science standards. Supported entirely by private contributions to Como Friends, the high-impact education program also helped to save the district an estimated $15,000 to $20,000 in potential transportation costs.

“This program is a great example of how we help put Como’s conservation mission into action,” says Laurel Lundberg, Como Friends’ Director of Individual Giving. “By making smart use of our resources at Como, we were able to offer a great outside-the-classroom experience for elementary schools in St. Paul, and show kids who might not have been to Como before the great resources they have right in their own backyards.”

In fact, many second grade students and their teachers reported that the field trip was their first visit to Como. But if they’re anything like Como’s community of two million visitors, it won’t be their last. In fact, a recent audience survey at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory found that 35 percent of visitors return to the Como Zoo or the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory two to five times a year.

St. Paul teachers also gave the program high marks, praising the age-appropriate curriculum, the hands-on learning opportunities, and even the fun of riding together on the colorful Como bus.

“It was thrilling for me to see the level of excitement the students expressed,” one participating teacher told us. “It made me renew my commitment to find real-life connections to students’ learning back at school to help make learning more meaningful for them in other areas as well.”

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