Rhode Island educators now have help paying transportation expenses for field trips to state arts venues, thanks to a new grant program sponsored by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. The Big Yellow School Bus Grant Program, put into effect this January, has so far enabled 25 schools to pay bus fare for field trips in the arts.
The Council designated $20,000 from a federal grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to fund this pilot program. So far, $8,344 of the program's initial funding has been used by schools throughout the state. The grant is designed to cover the cost of school bus fares for students, teachers and staff.
"Our hope is that we'll have the resources to continue supporting this program in the foreseeable future," said Randall Rosenbaum, the council's executive director. "It is important for kids to experience art in the community, and not just in the classroom," he added.
Schools are allowed to apply for only one $400 grant, and each field trip has to comply with Rhode Island Grade Span Expectations — state-mandated curricular benchmarks.
"We like to see how these field trips provide educational benefits for the students. So we ask questions that include ‘how do you plan to follow up this trip in the classroom?' And we also like to see how the trips will benefit the arts organizations," Rosenbaum said.
Without the grant program, students "might not be exposed to the arts and might not get that spark to stay interested in school," said Principal Linda Succi of Emma G. Whiteknact Elementary School in East Providence.
Succi applied for a grant of $390 to pay for the bus fare of roughly 300 people including the entire student body and staff members from the school. As a result of the grant, the school's students will now attend the May 12 performance of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra.
Succi said the rising cost of school bus transportation that sometimes makes field trips "cost-prohibitive" reflects the larger challenges that face arts education in Rhode Island schools.
"Arts and sports always go first. With budget cuts, children are not being exposed enough to the arts," she said.
The grant program also exposes students outside of the traditional public school system to arts education. The Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center in Providence was recently awarded a $335 grant for its students to attend a production of "Seussical the Musical" at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket on May 10.
The center offers a Department of Education–certified program to preschool and kindergarten students in Providence. Despite the fact that the school would only take 30 students on the trip, the school bus fee would have totaled about $300, said Elayne Terranova, the center's assistant director.
"The staff is looking forward to this — to build the curriculum around Dr. Seuss's children's books," Terranova said.
Terranova said exposing children to the arts ensures the development of the artists of the future.
Through exposure to the arts, she said, children "see how much is out there in the world and can develop their own creative skills. The budget in the schools is so slim that it is important to find funding."