Field trips becoming history at some Ohio schools

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CINCINNATI (AP) -- School field trips aren't what they used to be.

Faced with budget cuts and the added burden of preparing students for standardized tests, school systems have cut back on traditional field trips. Nowadays, in some schools, virtual field trips online have to do.

A growing number of Internet sites provide students the opportunity to take photo or video tours from their classrooms to many museums and historical sites. Some sites provide students a 360-degree visual panoramic scope with pop-ups of facts about the site, all controlled by students or teachers from their computers.

But while educators appreciate the low cost and convenient option, they say it pales in comparison to the real thing.

Tim Sullivan, founder of the national parent-teacher organization PTO Today, said it's a shame.

"I definitely think there were kids who received many first or only (experiences) through field trips," Sullivan told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "The first or only time seeing a symphony. The first or only time seeing live theater.

"Many kids will still experience those things without field trips, but a significant chunk -- those without the means or the support or interest at home -- may miss out on those elements for life."

No one in Ohio's state education department or nationally keeps track of field trips. But nearly every education veteran and family with schoolchildren during the last decade will say they have seen the decline since education reforms in 2002 placed more emphasis on standardized tests.

From 2002-07, Greater Cincinnati arts organizations reported a 30-percent drop in student attendance.

Field trip-based arts education student programs at Cincinnati's Aronoff Center and Music Hall have dipped from 18,074 students during the 2007-08 school year to 9,177 during the 2011-12 school year.

In 2001-02, the two performance venues saw field trip visits by 36,689 students.

"There was a time when we might see groups from the same school five or six times a year. Now we are lucky to have a group from that (school) district even once a year," said Steve Finn, director of education for the Cincinnati Arts Association.

More teachers are using Internet "field trips" to fill the void. But Amy Briggs, Cincinnati Art Museum's assistant curator for school-based learning, said the modern day, high-tech substitute doesn't match up to the old-fashioned field trip.

"There is no comparison to seeing a work of art in person," she said. "To be in contact with an authentic work of art gives one a sense of awe ... and a museum visit has the power to be a truly transformative experience."

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