After budget cuts eliminate field trip, Norfolk teacher turns to community to raise funds

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Students in last year's first grade class at P.B. Young Senior Elementary School in Norfolk learn about how bees make honey and live in colonies at Brookdale Farm in Pungo, Virginia Beach. (Courtesy of Monica Hilderbrand)
Students in last year’s first-grade class at P.B. Young, Sr. Elementary learn about how bees make honey and live in colonies at Brookdale Farm in Pungo, Virginia Beach. (Courtesy of Monica Hilderbrand)

NORFOLK — For several years, students at P.B. Young, Sr. Elementary have gone on a field trip to a local farm each spring. This year, after cuts were made to the school’s budget, the trip to Brookdale Farm in Pungo was dropped from the calendar.

Disappointed, Monica Hilderbrand, a first-grade teacher at the school, decided that she would raise the funds herself. To get the 150 students to the farm, Hilderbrand has until April 23 to raise about $1,000 on DonorsChoose, a funding platform for educational programs.

P.B. Young Senior Elementary students picked strawberries at Brookdale Farm in Pungo, Virginia Beach during last year's field trip. (Courtesy of Monica Hilderbrand)
P.B. Young, Sr. Elementary students picked strawberries at Brookdale Farm in Pungo, Virginia Beach during last year’s field trip. (Courtesy of Monica Hilderbrand)

The total trip costs almost $1,700, which includes the buses used to take the students to and from the farm. If the campaign is unsuccessful, the May trip will be canceled, and with the number of school days dwindling, the chance to plan another trip is next to impossible.

While touring the farm, students learn about the livestock and how bees make honey, photosynthesis, sustainable food and how a goods and services system works. The hands-on learning experience is especially helpful when preparing for SOL tests, Hilderbrand said.

“The trip ties into science, social studies, reading and writing,” Hilderbrand said. “It covers so much of their curriculum.”

The trip, Hilderbrand said, is about more than education. It’s also a chance for the school’s students, most of which live in neighboring low-income housing developments, to explore a setting outside of their own neighborhood.

About 500 students attend the school, nestled near downtown Norfolk on West Olney Road. Of those 500, nearly all of the students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.

“Even the ride out to the farm is an incredible experience for them,” said Veronica Kustowski, who also teaches first-grade students at the school. “Their eyes are just wide, looking at the cows and horses along the way.”

Kustowski said it’s an experience many take for granted, but for P.B. Young students, it’s a field trip they’ll never forget. For weeks afterward, she says her students will recall their favorite moments and even write about the farm for class assignments.

A P.B. Young Senior Elementary student shows a freshly-picked strawberry during last year's field trip to Brookdale Farm in Virginia Beach. (Courtesy of Monica Hilderbrand)
A P.B. Young, Sr. Elementary student shows a freshly-picked strawberry during last year’s field trip to Brookdale Farm in Virginia Beach. (Courtesy of Monica Hilderbrand)

“It’s bigger than life,” Kustowski said.

Curious about how many of her students had seen a farm, Hilderbrand asked her class if they had. Only two children raised their hands. One student, Hilderbrand said, had mistaken the zoo for a farm.

Out of a full class of students, only one had ever seen a farm.

Hilderbrand said the students haven’t been told about the impending trip in case they aren’t able to raise enough money, but she and Kustowski are hopeful that they will.

“The kids deserve to go,” Hilderbrand said. “Students probably don’t remember as much about the classroom, but you remember your field trips. Those are the things you remember.”

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