SARASOTA - The Suncoast is rich in cultural and environmental resources. Yet thousands of Suncoast children have never visited an aquarium, toured a museum, watched a play, or explored a nature preserve. Recent budget cuts eliminated money for school field trips, but the Sarasota Education Foundation stepped in to help.
The foundation has a program called Explore SRQ. Teachers apply for grants to take their students on field trips or to bring experts into the classroom. And the Education Foundation comes up with the money to make this hands-on learning possible.
3rd graders from Gulf Gate Elementary were recently on an Explore SRQ field trip at Mote Marine. "I've seen sharks, and I also saw very interesting animals, and I even saw some stingrays looking at me. And when I touched the stingrays, they felt soft and slimy, but that was okay with me," said 9-year-old Alexander Mizak.
Outside, other students were checking out what lives beneath the water. "I've learned that some fish, pipe fish, are actually very fast. Some fish are small, some fish are big, and I've learned lots," said Stephen Schadt.
After they've carefully rounded up some sea creatures, Mote Marine educators explain what they've found. "What they are doing, they are acting like scientists, and they are going out in the bay and they are assessing the biodiversity. They are sort of figuring out what sort of critters live out there, and why this environment is important to us," says Mote scientist Dana Henderson.
And their teacher says what they're learning here will carry over into the classroom. "You can use this experience as a spring board into so many different academic areas. For instance, they could do a writing assignment on this, they could do a research assignment on the animals they found then do a Google search and do a research-based project," says Gulf Gate teacher John Freeman.
More than 14,000 Sarasota County students have taken part in field trips paid for by the Explore SRQ program. "Teachers here in the county propose programs to us, and community leaders come in, they read the proposals, and those that are deemed the best overall, the most exciting, received funds through us. And teachers come out here and get to experience our local organizations like Mote," says program director Michelle Frau.
The funding comes from private donors.
Teachers can apply for the exploration grants online. It's a great way to connect the Suncoast's cultural and natural treasures to the classroom.