Expeditions are a great way to get AP Environmental Science students out of the classroom and into the world that they’re studying. The following strategies can be used to implement a field program for your students.
NAME your field program(s). Fold the name of your school into the program name and tie your program into the existing curriculum. Have your students develop a letterhead and logo. All correspondence, year after year, will be identified with your programs, and the name recognition you build will be helpful in generating the funding you need.
ENGAGE some of your students to act as core team leaders and give them a group title. Be careful in your choices. The students you select will become your steering committee. They will link incoming students to the work that has been done in the past and will be your team leaders in the field. Set up an independent study setting so that they have their own domain.
DEFINE the scope of your program for the year. This gives you a target for annual funding. Stick to that target each year and only change it as your program expands or changes. Think big up front, and then go for it. Once you set a goal you must follow through so that you build credibility with both the students and your sponsors.
BUILD your own program with your own educational goals. If it is an AP Environmental Science expedition, then fold some labs into the program. Use the time as a total immersion for your students. It’s not recommended to go with a commercial travel group, which is very expensive. Sponsors don’t like them because they're not “homegrown.”
SELECT a time slot. Look at your calendar for the upcoming year. Find a period with holiday breaks so that you don’t miss more than three or four regular school days. Typically, there is time during a winter or spring break or over a holiday such as Memorial Day.
CONSTRUCT your budget. Make sure you include not only travel expenses but also equipment. Tents can often be borrowed or rented. Contact the park in which you wish to stay and look for ways to avoid fees and taxes. For example, you can submit your lesson plans to any national park along with a fee-waiver request and, upon review, the park officers can waive the entrance fees.
MEET with parents. Tell them what you're planning and ask some of them to form a parent committee. They will be your voice when you ask the school board for permission to take your students on an overnight expedition. Tell the parents how much you expect the program to cost and be accurate. This means that you have done your homework first and put together an overall budget that matches your itinerary.
When meeting with parents, explain the three funding options the program offers: full scholarships to students who need financial help; matching payments, where the parent pays one-half of the cost and the program pays the other half; or the parent pays the entire cost. Give each parent a financial commitment letter, ask them to go home and consider their financial need, and then return the letter to you (in a sealed envelope) so that you know exactly how much money you have and how much more is needed to fund the expedition. The students are unaware of who is being funded, in whole or in part, by the program.
CREATE your funding projects. Every funding piece should fit into a “win-win” scenario. Both your students and the investor must “get” something. Usually, the students get the money and the investor gets some service. Have your school create an account for your group, listing each student separately. As the funds come in, place them in a specific student’s log of money until every log is filled. Cross-reference your entries so that you can show, at any time, where the money has come from for each student. Make sure that your school audits the accounts each year, and tell your supporters that the school will audit your funding. By not using program funds to pay for your expedition expenses, you can tell funding partners that all of the money goes to the student program. Here are some of the funding ideas that have worked for our programs over the years.
- Create a Boy or Girl Scout educational post for your group. The Scouts can cover insurance while you’re in the field. (Boy and Girl Scouts get a large number of “scouts” to report for their district; you get insurance... win-win.)
- Coordinate an after-school nature camp for early elementary education. Each participating elementary-school child pays $30 ($10 per week) for a two-hour after-school program. (The “big” kids teach; the little kids learn... win-win.)
- Contact local Kiwanis clubs, Lions (and Lionesses) clubs, American Legion posts, Rod & Gun clubs, civic associations, and garden clubs and negotiate funding for one student in exchange for your group presenting an evening program. You can have several “environmental” talks that the students give (with teacher support) along with a PowerPoint presentation about the field program. (You get dinner and funding; they get dinner and a presentation... win-win.)
- Enlist your local businesses as “environmental supporters.” Compose a letter that details the program and explains that their sponsorship will be used to fund a particular student. Ask each business to be a “contributor,” a “sponsor,” or a “partner.” Ask a local newspaper to give you a block of space to list all of your supporting businesses, which you can categorize into three groups. When the businesses find out about the different categories, some may raise their donations so they can be in the “high roller” group. Banks and ecologically “bad” companies are really good here. Car dealerships and real estate developers are also very supportive. Tell all the businesses they will be listed in any advertising for the program.
- Offer the students’ public-speaking service to each business. Be frank about finances and tell them what you need and how they can help out. Do not be afraid to ask for $25 from small businesses or $2,500 from larger ones. Working on businesses takes time, so start early. First contact them by phone and speak with a public-relations person, the person who runs the business, or anyone who will listen. Then drop off the pledge letter. Follow up with another phone call. Send a thank you note and give a certificate to every supporter. (You get the bulk of your money from local businesses; they get to “feel good” with public-relations advertising... win-win.)
- Consult with wealthy, philanthropic private citizens in your community. (The students will probably know who they are more often than you will.) Call them, introduce yourself, and ask for their help. Consider any citizen from the community who contributes an “environmental partner” because their donation has come from their own assets. (You get the money; they get connected with the kids ... win-win.)
- Hold plant sales in the spring and fall. Recruit a local nursery to donate unsold plant materials (shrubs mostly) in the fall and sell them to the faculty. You can also have the students do yard cleanup and planting, working with your PTO. (The kids get outside and learn how to earn money; citizens in the community get plant materials and/or yard work done for them... win-win).
These strategies will help you take your students to nature, instead of just talking about Earth systems while they are indoors.