Field trips have always been a fun diversion for students. The high price of gasoline has forced many schools to cancel their field trips. The Watson-Brown Foundation has made field trips possible, and has expanded its educational opportunities to include science and environmental education as well as history. While the program choices have grown, the expense is less. In fact, there is no expense at all.
"Watson-Brown will pay for field trip expenses. ... It's all free to schools, Scout troops and other educational groups," said Michelle Zupan, the curator at Hickory Hill and the Tom Watson Birthplace.
The foundation recently activated busing grants for field trips to foundation sites for school districts in McDuffie, Warren, Taliaferro, Glascock, Richmond, Columbia, Lincoln and Wilkes Counties. Special grants are available for two-day trips to the McDuffie Environmental Education Center and Hickory Hill.
According to foundation literature, teachers should apply through their school district for the cost of the bus, a driver and fuel. The foundation will reimburse the district for these costs at a pre-determined rate. Educators should check with their district for additional requirements. Field trips and programs to all sites are scheduled through Hickory Hill.
Programs offered include "Butterfly Watch," which allows kids to research butterflies that come to the butterfly garden; "Milkweed Check-up," where students observe and record damage caused by ozone on milkweed plants; "TSI: Tree Scene Investigator," where students make a mold and a cast of tree bark, collect evidence, and draw conclusions about a crime committed against a tree by a woodland animal; "Biome Explorer," where groups of students explore the flora and fauna of the Piedmont biome; "History Undercover," where students become junior archeologists and use math, compass and mapping skills to excavate in a dig box (school classroom) or at a historic site (Hickory Hill). Programs are available for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Ms. Zupan said the Savannah River Ecology Lab will come and set up education stations in conjunction with the environmental curriculum for large groups of students.
"We have many other programs too, but these represent our major areas of work," she said.
Hickory Hill held an open house on Friday, March 10, to introduce these programs to McDuffie County educators. Approximately 100 educators enjoyed a lunch provided by the foundation and a tour of Hickory Hill.
"There's a wealth of information here I'd like to connect with the historical significance of the area, in addition to the science applications. It's important for the children to know where they came from, so they can know where they are going," said Elizabeth Evans, a third grade teacher at Dearing Elementary School.
Dexter Rhodes from the Watson-Brown Butterfly Garden, Dot Kay from McDuffie Environmental Education Center and Tony Mills from the Savannah River Ecology Lab were on hand to talk to the teachers.
"We're trying to bring everybody together to find out what teachers need...to put in their hands what's available," Ms. Zupan said.
The teachers were free to wander around the historical home at their leisure, while Watson-Brown employees were readily available to share their knowledge.
"As a history teacher, I have visited several places like Mt. Vernon, The Hermitage, and Monticello. None is any nicer than Hickory Hill. I'm very impressed with this place. I bring my advanced-placement history students every year," said John Barnett, who teaches at Thomson High School.
For more information on the Watson-Brown Foundation and programs, or to schedule a field trip, call Ms. Zupan at 706-595-7777.