Students can journey into outer space at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center for less than the cost of a movie ticket.
But the trip to the museum’s front door is proving too costly for many schools.
Citing a 24 percent drop in field trip traffic over the past two years, Cosmosphere officials have launched a new fundraising effort aimed specifically at helping schools pay for transportation to the Hutchinson attraction.
“With the budget cuts over the last couple years, museums everywhere have felt the impact,” said Steve Martens, chairman of the Cosmosphere’s governing board.
“So we had to ask, ‘Is there anything we can do that could maybe make a trip to the Cosmosphere more affordable?’ … One of our critical missions is education and making sure we give as many school-age children as possible the chance to come here and experience the museum.”
The Cosmosphere, the only Smithsonian affiliate museum in Kansas, houses the second-largest collection of space artifacts in the world, second only to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. It also features a planetarium, IMAX theater and live science presentation called Dr. Goddard’s Lab.
Earlier this month, the Patty Carey Education Endowment Fund pledged $25,000 in matching money toward a fund that will help schools finance field trips to the Cosmosphere. The Cosmosphere’s governing board is trying to raise the other $25,000.
Martens said the money would help pay for bus transportation, which school officials say is the costliest part of most field trips.
“The ticket price is and always has been reasonable,” he said. “It’s getting students to the museum that has become more costly.”
In 2006, because of liability concerns and a new law that required booster seats for children younger than 8, many school districts stopped allowing parent drivers and required buses for field trips. That more than doubled the cost of some trips and prompted schools to take fewer trips.
More recently, budget constraints and an increased focus on “seat time” to cover material for state tests has meant even fewer out-of-the-classroom experiences.
Some popular field-trip destinations in Wichita, including Exploration Place, Great Plains Nature Center and the Museum of World Treasures, have started taking their lessons to the classroom through traveling outreach programs.
“If the kids can’t get here, we can go to them,” said Christina Bluml, director of marketing for Exploration Place.
Requests for “EP On the Go,” the science center’s outreach program, have “exploded” over the past two years, Bluml said. The program costs about $2 per child in Wichita and slightly more elsewhere in the state, depending on the school’s distance from Wichita.
But Martens, the Cosmosphere chairman, said no classroom lesson can compare with star-gazing in the planetarium or seeing the world-famous Apollo 13 space capsule.
His daughter, Molly, attended space camp as a middle schooler and “caught the math and science bug,” he said. Now she’s a mechanical engineering student at the University of Southern California and recently won Disney’s ImagiNations Design Competition.
“All of us, when we think back to our school days, probably still remember the field trips we took,” Martens said. “I think it’s an important part of the overall learning experience.”