While traditional school field trips may be nothing more than youthful diversions, students benefit from structured field trips that explore career options.  A local organization in Texas see structured field trips as a way to push students to improve in school by envisioning their future through experiential learning.

VOCABULARY 180Motivate Our Students Texas, Inc., founded by Dr. Eli Whitney, organizes trips to colleges, workplaces and meetings with professionals for students at Judson, San Antonio and South San independent school districts. The trips are mostly funded by Dr. Whitney because he believes in the positive effect structured field trips have on students.

Whitney grew up in an impoverished area of the nation’s capitol. Becoming a doctor, he said, didn’t seem likely based on his surroundings. Whitney credits his high school basketball coach with opening his eyes to broader horizons. During a week-long practice camp, Coach Wootten explained to his young athletes that statistically, very few of them would become professional basketball players and that it was imperative that they explore other career paths.

Coach Wootten taught us that if you want to make something out of your life, you have to do what’s right and not follow the crowd,” Whitney said. “When that camp was over, I realized I needed to change who I was hanging out with.”

His new direction led to medical school.

“Students need to know what’s out there for them beyond their school years,” Whitney said. “The field trips are only an incentive but the payoff can be big, for them and the community.”

The students in the program take up to 10 excursions annually and must maintain good academic and disciplinary standing. They tend to improve their attendance as a result, officials said.

Employers have taken notice, too..

“I think any business owner is always concerned with having a talented and highly educated workforce, which is something San Antonio has struggled with in some science, technology and engineering industries,” said Bill Cox, president and CEO of Cox Manufacturing, a participant in the program. “So it’s important to encourage these students not to stumble through school without purpose, and show them that they are about to inherit the world.”

On a recent Monday morning, Cox hosted 19 South San High School students at his plant. Motivate Our Students bussed the pupils 28 miles across town from their South Side campus.

“We’re bringing you to the real world to let you know what you can do in life,” he told them, explaining that he needs better-educated, higher-skilled workers to design and operate his factory’s systems. His industry relies heavily on robotics, cutting down on jobs.

Students asked Cox questions ranging from what happens to metal shavings — “They are recycled,” he said — to whether any of his employees have ever lost a finger: “In our 57 years of operation, no.”

Students then broke into smaller groups of four and five for a tour, marveling at tiny metal pieces that eventually become parts of medical devices and paintball guns. One student, Jeanette Platt, asked several questions of her tour guide, Mike Petrusch, vice president of manufacturing.

“I find it all very interesting to see something different each time,” said Platt, who has her heart set on becoming a veterinarian but whose father worked in engineering.

SAISD’s Davis Middle School Principal Anita O’Neal credits the program with helping improve attendance. Of 15 middle schools in its peer group within SAISD, Davis was ranked 14th for its attendance rates in 2011, before the program came in, but was No. 1 by April.

“We are in a school transformation and are truly grateful for their influence,” O’Neal said. “Kids seem inspired meeting people who are happy doing their job and making good money. It doesn’t feel as far away as it once may have for them.”

CONTINUE READING – Field trips focus students on their futures

Francisco Vara-Orta is a staff writer at My SA.


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