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Why a free bus ride is making art teachers cry with joy

The 2016 M-STEP results come out Tuesday morning
Woodley Wonderworks
flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
Administrators said keeping bus transportation, art and music, and avoiding making athletics pay-to-play programs were some of their top priorities to save from cuts.

For art teachers in Michigan, it may be hard to even remember what “good news” feels like.

Between budget cuts, pink slips and declining enrollment, more than 108,000 Michigan kids don’t have any art access in their schools. That’s according to a 2012 statewide survey.

But for some 20,000 students, that’s about to change. They’re getting…a free bus ride.

"The money is just not there."

While a free bus ride may not seem like the kind of thing that would make a 4th grade St. Charles Elementary teacher like Susan Pumford tear up, consider how tough it is to pay for cultural field trips these days.

“For some our students, St. Charles is the farthest they get. Because with gas at almost 4 dollars a gallon, the money is just not there,” she says. “So to give them this [trip] is something they might not ever see again."

Pumford and some 80 St. Charles students are headed to the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra, thanks to a $70,000 grant from Michigan Youth Arts Alliance.

That grant was originally around just $40,000, but they were swamped with applications from schools – way more than they could fund. So a private donor stepped up with an extra $25,000.

Why busing?

Because even if museums or symphonies are free for kids, the transportation alone can costs hundreds of dollars.

Schools just don’t have that extra cash right now, especially for cultural excursions. Do you want to be the guy who tells the football team they can’t go the next game, because the 4th graders are going to the symphony?  

For Sharon Pumford, the St. Charles Elementary teacher, this field trip to the orchestra isn’t just about the music.

She says it’s also a reason for her to talk to her class about good manners, dressing nicely, and feeling like “we put on our diamonds and our furs,” she says.

Three hundred silent fourth graders

On the day of the trip, Pumford says her kids show up in ties, nice shoes, and dresses.

Like all 4th graders, they’re loud. Until the music starts.  

"A theater full of 300 fourth graders, and when the orchestra begins to play, and the snare drums are going and everything's going, it's completely silent. Just, the awe. They're like, I've never heard that before."

After this year’s trip, Pumford’s promised to send us some pictures of that.

Here'sthe full list of which schools are taking art trips with the grant money. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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