Originally published in Points West magazine
Traveling MILES for Enrichment & Learning
By Megan Smith
K-12 Curriculum and Digital Learning Specialist
Some very generous donors make an array of activities and programming possible at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West—including Sinclair Oil, and the Earl and Carol Holding Family who give to the Center’s MILES program. Read educator Megan Smith’s story that follows to learn how the Center benefits from their generosity.
The school year is in full swing, and teachers are busy planning the year ahead. Their preparation can be rigorous as they strive to meet increasing demands—especially with the implementation of Common Core Standards nation-wide. In addition, many teachers face budgets that require them to be creative in introducing students to new ideas and skills. In essence, many teachers have to employ the very same problem solving and critical thinking skills that they challenge their students to apply in the classroom. The Interpretive Education Department at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West believes in these teachers and students, and we want to help them in any way we can!
The Museum Interpretation, Learning, and Enrichment for Students (MILES) school program offers vital support for students and their teachers to visit the Buffalo Center of the West and Cody, Wyoming. The costs for planning a field trip can be prohibitive for schools, plus the added headache of trying to plan a field trip to a destination ten, even twelve, hours away. The costs add up quickly. Transportation, lodging, meals, and admission fees incur a burden that many school districts just cannot afford.
While field trip experiences are an important enrichment to student learning, schools work with tight budgets that often do not allow for such discretionary spending. Through the generous support of Sinclair Oil since 2005, the Center is able to award transportation and lodging assistance to schools throughout the Rocky Mountain West. Without this program, these students and teachers would not be able to take advantage of our amazing museum and authentic collections.
As these students walk through the door, we want them to be a part of the West. We endeavor to achieve this by enhancing their experience beyond both the students’ and teachers’ expectations. The Center not only embraces this important audience through its collections and interactive components, but it also provides each class with a guided tour and each student with a self-guided map. The tours and maps are tailored to address state and national standards in history, culture, art, and science. Our primary objective is to enrich students’ learning by providing an authentic experience that helps them apply what they learn in the classroom using engaging and interactive teaching techniques.
While in Cody, students stay in a local hotel, eat at local restaurants, and visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West for two days. But their learning extends beyond the museum walls. They learn about the rich culture and history of the Rocky Mountain West; they take on new responsibilities; they form strong bonds with their classmates and teachers; and many participate in life-changing experiences.
Since its inception fourteen years ago, the MILES program has influenced thousands of students, and teachers repeatedly emphasize how this program changes their students’ lives. It is our fervent hope to continue to change lives for years to come—a hope that recently become a reality. Over the next five years, we will make a lasting impression on nearly four thousand students who are able to visit the Center thanks to Sinclair Oil’s generous commitment to support this program.
As students from Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, and even Utah board their buses to begin their journey, many opportunities await them at the Center. The experiences in Cody provide wonderful learning opportunities to apply skills they need as students and eventually as adults. Students love the independence they have in budgeting their money to spend downtown and at the Center’s Museum Store, spending a night away from home, and eating with their friends at a local restaurant. They look forward to swimming at the Paul Stock Aquatic and Recreation Center and essentially feel like they are on a mini-vacation. For some students, this is their first opportunity to explore new places in Wyoming. Time and again, students share with us that they learned so much and had so much fun, but they wish over and over again that they could have stayed longer!
Why longer? The teachers, students, and chaperones have a full itinerary to provide the most enriching experience possible. For a glimpse into the packed two-day trip to Cody, look at “MILES, Smiles, and Fun” below.
I can recall one afternoon when one of the Center’s security officers shared a story that is testament to the impact the Center and Cody has on students. This particular security officer told me about a young boy, probably in fifth or sixth grade, who came to the Center one Saturday with his family. He said to the boy, “I remember you! Weren’t you visiting us this week?” The boy was thrilled to be recognized and acknowledged, “Yes!” His class had visited Cody through our MILES program. He went home and shared his experience with his family, and that very next weekend, his family traveled from southern Wyoming to see for themselves what Cody and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West are all about!
The impact does not stop with one isolated story. Students and teachers tell us just how much their experience meant to them. As teachers summarize the benefits of the MILES program, they open their hearts to us as ambassadors for their students. Students’ feedback is just as heartfelt. Their response is touching, often funny, and always honest. To the right are just a few examples.
As I reread these quotes, and as I meet the students who visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, I firmly believe that we are making a difference in the lives of so many students. We enrich their lives; we give them something to think about and apply to their own lives. We invite students to learn, while still having fun; and we help teachers meet their growing needs. We will continue to change lives, while offering a field trip that is an experience in itself, thanks to Sinclair Oil and the Earl and Carol Holding Family, who generously support the MILES program.
To learn how your school can apply for MILES funding, visit centerofthewest.org and click on “Learn.”
Beartooth Inn & Suites, Blair Hotels, and the Irma Hotel also provide lodging at a discounted rate for schools that are part of the MILES program.
Reviews are in
What teachers are saying…
- “Many students in our community had never been to a museum! This grant made it feasible to bring students two hundred miles from home!”
- “Thank you so much everyone at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody and everyone at Sinclair who make the ‘MILES’ program available—we love you!”
- “I appreciate the opportunity to take advantage of the MILES grant! The students were able to see many sites and review many ideas they had learned during Wyoming History this school year.”
- “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for so many students. We know that most of them will not have a chance to ever go to Cody and tour the Center of the West again.”
And the students are buzzing about…
- “I am going to tell my mom and dad all about the museum and how proud I was to see it.”
- “I want to come back and learn everything over again!”
- “It was the dream of my life.”
- “I thank you very much for helping with our fund to go to Cody. I hope that you will continue to help fund students in the next year. If you wonder why, you should think about how much it will do for their education to be able to learn their history.”
MILES, smiles, and fun
DAY 1 | Early Morning
Board the bus and off to Cody!
DAY 1 | 3 p.m.
With pit stops along the way, the weary travelers arrive at the Center to greetings and welcomes from Center educators. After a brief orientation, and with student-friendly maps in hand, they head out to explore the museum with their teachers and chaperones.
DAY 1 | Evening
It’s been a long day. Everyone is tired, but rallies to check in to the hotel, eat dinner, and cap off a fun day with a swim.
DAY 2 | 9 a.m.
Board the bus for the Center! Time for a group photo with the larger-than-life-size sculpture of Buffalo Bill and the Sinclair banner proudly displayed. Then, it’s time for guided tours with the Center’s docents, focused on topics like Plains Indian cultures, homesteading in Wyoming, animal adaptations, and mountain men of the Rocky Mountain West.
DAY 2 | Noon
Students have some lunch, board their buses, and begin the long journey home.
Upon arriving home, students buzz with excitement as they recall their trip to Cody. They share their experiences with their family and friends, insisting that the whole family return to Cody for a visit!
Megan Smith joined the education staff at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in 2006. Since earning a BS in Environmental Science from Indiana University and an MS in Ecology from the University of New Haven, she has dedicated her fifteen-plus-year career to informal education at museums, nature centers, and other organizations. As the School Services Coordinator [now K-12 Curriculum and Digital Learning Specialist], she is responsible for the outreach and onsite services that the Center offers students and teachers. She also works on curriculum development, outreach materials, and tour outlines. Smith is a published author of non-fiction children’s books, as well as a Certified Interpretive Guide through the National Association for Interpretation.