A Flathead Valley nonprofit, Glacier National Park Conservancy, has raised nearly $15,000 to fund school field trips to Glacier National Park.
Some of the schools don’t have enough money in their budget for the field trips. Now that the funds are available, the field trips are becoming so popular that there is a waiting list.
Lori Ortley is an environmental science teacher at Flathead High School. She took a group of students to Glacier with the provided funds.
“It’s nothing like what happens in the lab,” Ortley said.
Ortley believes it is important for students to learn how to run an experiment in the field. Her students went to Glacier to study mercury levels in dragonfly larvae.
"The kids, when they collect it, they have gloves on, only one person touches it, and opens the bag. They really had to follow some strict protocols, or it wouldn't have worked," Ortley said.
Her class isn’t the only one that got the opportunity to travel to Glacier. Fourth graders at Peterson Elementary School took a field trip to study fire ecology, how fast a wildfire can grow and how the land repairs itself.
Between 30 and 40 school districts have participated, and that number is getting bigger.
"What we're seeing, and as we look towards 2015, is a significant growth in this program and, frankly, a significant growth in those schools wanting to participate in it. For the first time this spring and fall we've had waiting lists to participate," said Mark Preiss, president of Glacier National Park Conservancy.
Preiss says the field trips are a must, "So they're not just studying in a textbook," he said.
Preiss told NBC Montana that the money came from outside donors and from partnerships with local businesses, like Smith’s Food & Drug, which asked shoppers to round up their purchases during the month of July.
"It’s our backyard park and it’s a place for students, whether they have an urban background or a rural background, they get to experience first-hand what this natural environment is all about," Preiss said.
"Because we live in this awesome valley, we have the opportunity when many people don't; they live in a big city and they would never be able to do that sort of thing. All they do is laboratory work," Ortley said.
Ortley hopes to continue to get the funds for the field trips because she wants to embed field experiments into the curriculum.
The Glacier National Park Conservancy hopes to raise more money to fund school field trips to Glacier for districts across the state.