Educator alert: Field trip resources available


his school year marks the first time in three years that pandemic-era 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, and a core part of fourth-grade curriculum. 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, as well as the Erie Canalway 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. In the works since 2017, the Erie Canal Learning Hub makes it easier for teachers to access authoritative, high-quality learning materials for their students, said Patrick Stenshorn, education program manager of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

“The canal is not just a part of our history, it’s a part of our present, and it’s a part of our future, and there’s numerous ways to engage with it,” Stenshorn said.

Ticket to Ride funding is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Visit eriecanalway.org/learn/teachers for more information.

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 facilities, 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.

“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. “While science and social studies are usually the most popular on the properties, math and language arts are easily covered, as well as art and physical education,” said Williams.

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.

“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.”

Applications for grants are accepted on a rolling basis. For more info, visit nysut.cc/connectkids.

bridge across body of water