It's about the kids or is it?

Do you remember class trips from childhood? The excitement leading up the the big day; studying what the destination had to offer. And then the big day came. Your mother made sure you had a packed lunch and the money for admission to the venue.

I remember having to arrive at school early so we would have as much time to spend at our school-trip destination as possible. Then single file to the bus.Off we went, the excitement reaching a crescendo and the noise and rambunctiousness on the bus was maddening until the teacher clapped her hands and shouted “be quiet children or I’ll tell the driver to turn around and we’ll go back home.

The trip that stands out for me was our trip one year to the Cincinnati Natural History museum, near where I lived as a child. Walking through the door was like whaling into a fantasy world. I could hear the wows whispered and shouted by my classmates, because right there center stage in the middle of the multi-storied atrium were the assembled bones of a full size Tyrannosaurus.

We examined the ancient bones, but what was better, was the exploring the man-made cave with all its faux cave creatures and a two story water fall in a huge (at least to a kid) vaulted area with stream, stalagmites and the smell of damp air, that I will never forget and that was over 45 years ago.

My granddaughter last year, visited Henricus Historical Park right here in Chester. She was so excited to tell her grandmother and me how much fun it was. Her favorite part was the Indian village. She said she had been studying Native American history in school. She said she was amazed at how Native Americans made a canoe from a log. She went on as long as a seven-year-old can, about her experience, which at its core is learning.

Many times I hear folks talking about how they hate that almost half of their taxes go to support  public schools. “After all,” they say. “I don’t have kids in school.”

But there is a distinct correlation between the survival of extremely important local historic sites, zoos and even businesses such as the Chesterfield Berry Farm and class trips. You may start to make the connection as it relates to your child or grandchild but you may be thinking, “where’s he going with this?After all I don’t have kids in school, so why am I paying taxes to support them?”

But the meat and potatoes, or the pulled pork and grits, of this thing seems to be obvious,  but merits a deeper discussion. If you want these sites and cultural experiences to remain viable, they must have the support that student class trips bring them.

Many educational, historic sites and commercial sites offer a unique opportunity for learning for adults and children. Henricus is a gleaming example that offers a look into the establishment of one of the first settlements in the new world, and the day to day tasks that kept settlers alive. Other sites offer education focused on other periods in American history. Still others allow student and the general public to get a real look at exotic animals or a working farm. Some students only see these things on TV.

But these venues are not only places that offer an opportunity for children to learn but for adults as well.  

Most venues that school children visit, as part of their curriculum, are also visited and enjoyed by adults with grown children, who are out of school or who don’t have children in the public system or children at all.

The income received from students whose learning is enhanced through class trips is the life blood of what we consider cultural tourism. While sports complexes are supported by fees paid by parents why, shouldn’t learning experiences provided by these venues be supportyed by class trip fees as well?

If we left it up to attendance without class excursions, many of these historic, cultural and even private enterprises wouldn’t survive. And if these cultural locations are lost, then the tentacles of the results will spread further than a loss of venues for school trips and leisurely Sunday exploring by local adults. The loss of these local cultural experiences will reverberate through our local economy in ways that are hard to quantify.

Jurisdictions as large as Chesterfield has become need both economic and cultural incentives to lure businesses and jobs to the county. We also experience the ancillary business and resulting taxes the visitors of our cultural locations, stop before or after to eat, shop or even take a hotel room.

A new position in Chesterfield has been created just to deal with and promote tourism. We as a county, have a treasure trove of locations that are historic. We have a history that goes back to the founding of this country and the remains of the Civil War. We have so much to celebrate in this county and much of it has yet to be realized. When it is, it will stand on its own or will become a substantial draw for new businesses, quality of life is as important as schools or public safety. We need our cultural and historic locations, both for the education of our children and the added value of our tax base and continued viability as a vibrant modern and progressive county.

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