Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Field Study Process and Payment

I was evidently nervous when I arrived at the main office of the field trip location. Outside were 65 students and about 20 parents/teachers. Inside I hoped that the work to plan the trip and the check-in-hand would suffice for the number of children there and the planning done. I expressed my anxiety to the person in charge who responded that every teacher who arrives with a check in hand is very nervous and expresses that field trips are tough to plan and carry out. I felt better knowing I wasn't alone. I waited for the receipt, tucked it away in my backpack, and then joined the group for a fun day at a historic location.

Our team plans a lot of field trips, expert visitors, and special events for the students. I believe this is a good idea because it demonstrates to students that learning occurs everywhere we go and amongst multiple people and events. I also believe that field trips build great cultural proficiency by introducing students to many people and experiences that are often different from what they naturally engage in, and field trips provide the learning community with common experiences that help to strengthen our community of learners and provide valuable reference points for later learning. This is all good.

The challenge with field trips is the time it takes to plan these trips. Our team generally plans most of the trips during the summer months since that's a time when we can wait on the other end of the phone for up to 30 minutes or more as we contact field trip coordinators, discuss trip plans, check schedules, and complete all related details. To plan a field trip altogether takes a good hour of phone time and a good hour of collegial time too as we think about all the logistics related to the trip.

The money is often the difficult part for multiple reasons including the following:
  • families generally pay the fee for field trips. That means we have to collect the funds from family members and find funds for families unable to pay. That also means we have to figure out the cost per family, create permission slips, collect the money online and/or offline, keep track of who has paid and who has not, follow up with regard to missing payments,  and request deposits and payment from office staff. 
  • we also have to order busses for these events which are expensive. This also means figuring out each child's portion of the bus fee and collecting the money.
What makes the money part of the field trips most difficult is that teachers generally don't have much time during the work day to make phone calls, remind parents to pay their fee, and work to figure out how to fund the trips for students who are unable to pay. We don't have this time because we are generally working with large groups of students most of the day, and when we are not working with large groups of students, we're typically setting up or planning for all those students' learning events. 

Some recommend that we don't do field trips given the amount of time and strife the trips create, but I believe our team is committed to sponsoring these field studies because we know how enriching these events are for students--we know these events help to create a strong, smart, and enthusiastic learning team.

How can we make sure that field studies are easier to plan, manage, and execute. What might we do differently? As it stands now, I think this process may work in our environment.
  1. Summer planning for most trips which means checking the calendar, contacting the field trip location, securing a date, and figuring out the fees.
  2. Completing field trip approval forms during the summer and sending those slips to the office online so they can secure busses and  establish fees. (I'm wondering if it would be better for teachers to secure the busses--I'm not sure about that). Make sure that the amount we are asking students to pay account for potential increase in bus costs and decrease in number of students attending (numbers of students at a grade level or for a trip often change due to a large number of factors).
  3. Creating permission slips, passing out those slips, and collecting the fees about one month in advance. Keeping track of all payments w/a common payment book for the grade level. 
  4. In most cases getting a check early and having that check sent to the field trip location so we don't have to worry about the money on the day of the trip--this might be helpful. In these cases, receiving a receipt online will be ideal. When we have to pay at the place, requesting a check a few days ahead and then once we pay, receiving a receipt and when we return to school making a copy of the receipt and handing the original to office staff. 
  5. Keeping a grade-level book that includes copies of all checks, receipts, and paperwork to keep a log of the trips' documents in case issues arise later.
  6. Reviewing the trips' finances and logistics right after the trip to see if our funding was accurate and if there are other logistical issues that need attention. 
  7. Reflecting on the trip or special event with students and colleagues soon after the trip, and making decisions about the trip or special event for the future.
Field studies have amazing potential with regard to dynamic teaching/learning programs. I'm wondering about how many schools and educators shy away from these events due to the complexity of planning and carrying out the events, and how many have streamlined the planning and preparation in order to make these events a regular part of the school program. 

Should field studies be an afterthought or an extra, or should field studies be considered a vital part of a meaningful, engaging learning program? If field studies are considered vital, should we find better ways to support and pay for these events so that children in all schools and from all communities can enjoy and learn from these events?