I know I don’t need to launch into a long explanation about hard times and the decline of the school field trip.  Those of us working in museum education know the rhetoric well. I will skip, instead, right to the details of an innovative program the Detroit Historical Society offers to ensure that underserved schools and students benefit from the history and culture we have to offer.

It’s called “Adopt-a-Class,” and it is as simple as it is effective.  The Detroit Historical Society promotes (quite aggressively, I am pleased to say) a unique opportunity to its friends and members that funds field trip experiences for underserved schools.  I will quote directly from our website:

“The Society’s Adopt-a-Class program allows donors to sponsor a class visit – either partially or in full. A $400 contribution to this fund will ensure that one class of approximately 30 students can visit either [the Detroit Historical Museum or the Dossin Great Lakes Museum] at no cost, with a waived admission fee and free transportation and materials.”

At $400 a class, this program appeals to donors who may not have the means (or inclination) to make larger donations or gifts.  In addition, the donations go directly into a special fund that can only be used for school field trips.  When I have asked some of our donors why they give to the Adopt-a-Class program, they say that they like knowing that their donation is making a direct impact on students’ lives.

As for the nitty-gritty of how it works, I give you the following brief summary:

  • Donations to the program go into a separate fund that enables us to always know the balance we have available for school trips.
  • We advertise the availability of the fund to schools that meet our application criteria, which is based on the schools Title I status.  In essence, if 75% or more of students in a school receive free or reduced cost lunches, they qualify for funding.
  • Qualifying schools book a school field trip for which we waive the admission fees.  They secure and pay for their own transportation to and from the museum, and we reimburse them up to $400 for the cost after the program.
  • In order to receive the reimbursement, we ask the schools to complete a program evaluation and submit an invoice.  This way we can keep our accounting straight, but also get valuable feedback.

My favorite part?  The program evaluation includes a teacher survey AND a student survey.  Whenever we get a batch of responses, I love reading the students comments.  Many times they draw pictures and recall in vivid detail the things they loved about the museum.

If you are interested in learning more about Adopt-a-Class, feel free to contact me at tobiv@detroithistorical.org or 313-833-0481.