Free excursions are a lesson in the free market
Corporations looking for new customers and schools looking for fun field trips are finding each other via the Field Trip Factory.
“This is a way to rebuild connections and to empower kids to be a part of their community,” says Susan Singer. Singer is president of Field Trip Factory, the Chicago-based company that creates the field trips.
It’s not without controversy. Companies get a boost in their marketing, which some some object to along with the whole concept of commercializing children’s field trips and marketing stores to children within a curriculum. But those who have done it say children get a great field trip with important lessons on such things as eating well and safe food handling.
“Be a Smart Shopper” takes kids into Dominick’s grocery stores to teach them about nutrition—at no cost to the schools.
“It’s all about helping our children be healthy, well-adjusted adults. And eating healthy is a big part of that,” Singer says. Kids learn how to read nutrition labels, safely handle meat, compare ingredients and calculate the cost of dinner. They sample new and unusual fruits and vegetables in the produce department and pet live lobsters in the meat department.
Deb Weber, a second-grade teacher at Galloway School in Channahon, took her class to Dominick’s in November as part of her nutrition unit. “It was close, it was convenient, it was safe, it was educational,” she says.
Afterwards, teachers say students’ eating habits change. The company monitored the sales of healthy products at the grocery store and found sales increased 12 to 18 percent after their field trips. Teachers report seeing students actively making healthier choices in the classroom.
“It definitely had an impact,” says Mee Soohoo, a teacher at Haines Elementary in Chicago who has taken her first-graders on four of the field trips. At lunch, kids began choosing fresh fruit over canned, wheat bread over white.
Others see the program as exploitive.
“It’s a slippery slope,” says Susan Linn, a psychologist and founder of Stop Commercial Exploitation of Children Coalition in Boston. “I think that schools are so desperate for funding and especially for field trips, which are so educational and memorable. It seems unfair for corporations to exploit that need.” Children become “walking billboards,” Linn says.
Singer sees it differently. “The kids aren’t being marketed to, they’re learning about eating healthy and exercising. These retailers and companies don’t need to do that. They could spend their money running ads on television.”
Field Trip Factory has been doing educational field trips for more than a decade. “Be a Smart Shopper” is in its sixth year with more than 6,000 field trips to 119 Chicago area Dominick’s stores. Other store trips include PetCo, where kids learn about animals, and the Sports Authority, where they discuss fitness. For information, call (800) 987-6409 or visit www.fieldtripfactory.com.
-- Kathryn Monroe and Matt Alderton