It’s been a difficult school year for students, with many unable to attend classes in person or play sports due to COVID-19. Another experience many are missing out on is field trips. That’s why a new partnership is trying to help Buffalo and Niagara Falls students visit local educational, art and cultural centers virtually.
Officials gathered outside the Explore & More children’s museum in downtown Buffalo Tuesday morning to announce a new set of virtual field trips, which will be offered for free to students attending Buffalo and Niagara Falls public and charter schools, as well as any other Western New York schools that serve low-income students.
Through live virtual tours and pre-recorded videos, students will experience Explore & More, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Buffalo Museum of Science, the Buffalo History Museum, and the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center.
Although the announcement wasn’t a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Niagara Falls City School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie said it was something of a grand opening for thousands of students.
“We're cutting probably 100,000 ribbons today. Even though there's not one here, we're opening up something for the schema of every student in this area, to make it accessible and open and necessary,” he said.
The new program, dubbed the AT&T Virtual Field Trip Program, was made possible with a $75,000 grant from AT&T. It’s part of the telecommunications giant’s $600 million philanthropic initiative aimed at school success and workforce readiness.
Kevin Hanna, AT&T regional director of external affairs, said the company and its partners wanted to bring some “normalcy” to an “unusual school year.”
“AT&T is happy to keep the field trip spirit alive this school year and provide students of all ages some normalcy during these difficult times,” he said.
Buffalo Public Schools is currently keeping all of its 32,000 students at home for remote learning, although its planning for a phased-in return before January. Niagara Falls schools have a hybrid model of both in-person and online classes, although its Maple Avenue Elementary School had to close for several weeks last month due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Dr. Will Keresztes, Buffalo Public Schools chief of intergovernmental affairs, planning and community engagement, said the virtual field trips are a welcome addition for students and teachers making their way through a difficult school year.
“Students and teachers can continue to experience these local educational treasures. Just that little bit of normalcy under these very challenging times is such a special gift for our teachers and students,” he said.
Marisa Wigglesworth, president and CEO of the Buffalo Museum of Science, said the pandemic has underscored the importance of STEM.
“Those are the skills that kids learn when they come on a field trip to the Buffalo Museum of Science, and those are the skills that kids are still going to get to learn when they enjoy a virtual field trip with one of our talented facilitators,” she said. “Kids are going to get to explore geology, learn about weather, wonder about world cultures, and even dissect a cow's eye virtually. What's better than that?”
Educators interested in scheduling a virtual field trip for their class can visit the Explore & More website.