For Clarke County School District students, getting back to normal means going back to the University of Georgia for annual field trips.
In the fall, a group of pre-kindergarten students were the first Clarke County School District (CCSD) students on campus for a school trip since early 2020. Their visit to the UGA State Botanical Garden of Georgia included collecting acorns from the woods and learning how squirrels store them to eat during the cold winter months.
The activities at the garden were related to the five senses, something the students would study in the pre-K curriculum this year. They wandered the Hummingbord Trail, looking for birds, matched color cards with the colors of plants in the garden and enjoyed a puppet show.
“With the pandemic, the students have been limited to the classroom, so it’s beneficial for them to leave the school and do something new,” said Caroline Joseph, who teaches pre-K at Whit Davis Elementary School. “They love puppets and will remember the characters.”
Experience UGA began in 2013 through a partnership between UGA and the CCSD. Facilitated by the Office of Service-Learning, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit, the program’s objective was to introduce even the youngest students to learning on a college campus and meeting UGA students. The program grew gradually each year with the full CCSD student body, almost 12,000 students, visiting UGA in 2018-19.
“For most students, this is the first field trip of their life,” said Audrey Stadler, education coordinator at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. “Some may never have been to the garden or had access to nature, and they get to meet new people and experience new things.”
The Office of Service-Learning received more than $10,000 this spring from the UGA Parents Leadership Council (PLC) to help defray the costs of running Experience UGA. Since 2017, the PLC has been a loyal supporter of Experience UGA by contributing to both the transportation of CCSD students to UGA’s campus as well as the Experience UGA Ambassador Leadership Program. The Ambassador Leadership Program trains UGA students to become service leaders at the university and later in their careers.
Experience UGA and in-person CCSD classes stopped in mid-March 2020, as cases of COVID-19 continued to increase in Georgia and around the world. The 2020-21 school year began with students learning remotely, returning to the classroom in November. There were intermittent closures through spring 2021 as cases rose and fell. During that time, UGA students, faculty and staff created online content to continue the field trips, remotely.
The pre-K students were the only ones scheduled for Experience UGA field trips in fall 2021. Other grades began returning in early 2022.
Earlier this year, the eighth grade students visited the UGA Special Collections Libraries, where they continued their yearlong study of Georgia history. They explored a replica of former U.S. Sen. Richard Russell’s Washington, D.C., office, studied a mural that depicts the state’s history and learned new things about Georgia through the various exhibits and hands-on experiences.
“Getting to visit special collections with Experience UGA as an eight grader helps solidify a year spent learning about Georgia’s history in school,” said Mazie Bowen, public service coordinator at the UGA Special Collections Libraries. “Students are able to confront the past, envision themselves as history makers, and have the opportunity to visit UGA.”
During the 2021-22 school year, about 3,000 CCSD students from the pre-K, seventh, eighth and 11th grades took Experience UGA field trips. Every school in the district and the CCSD Early Learning Center was represented on at least one visit. The school system and UGA hope to continue the partnership in 2022-23.
“Right now, we anticipate hosting nearly every grade level on campus,” said Josh Podvin, Office of Service-Learning assistant director. “And we will continue to enhance and expand our virtual resources on the Experience UGA virtual site.”
Experience UGA depends on student volunteers and private funding to provide an annual field trip opportunity to every Clarke County school student. Contact Josh Podvin, firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information about the program. Contact Anne Moser, email@example.com, to make a gift to the UGA Foundation in support of Experience UGA.