Local Museum Feeling Economic Pinch after Seeing Fewer Students

By: Nicole Morten Email
By: Nicole Morten Email

School district's facing major budget cuts across the board are doing what they can to keep expenses down -- especially when it comes to field trips. Because of that -- museums across Texas, including some right here in the Brazos Valley are feeling the pain as fewer students come marching in.

It is a place that screams history. But lately, the only voices echoing throughout the Brazos Valley African American Museum are the voices of employees.

"It has been very slow, I think the economy has a big effect on it and people just don't' have the money to do the extra things they want to do," explained BVAAM Director Donna Pittman.

Last year state lawmakers slashed $4 billion in general revenue from public education. This in return had many school districts slashing expenses.

“It's hitting all of us and we are having to look at things and see where we need to make cuts," explained Kemp Elementary principal Kellie Deegear.

Those budget cuts are calling for many schools to cut back on annual field trips. And the Brazos Valley African American Museum in Bryan is the latest victim. In 2010 the BVAAM had visits from 200 students; in 2011 the museum saw 10 percent fewer students.

“Even though the admission fee is very reasonable, I'm finding out that there just isn't a big push to come in,” explained BVAAM Director Donna Pittman. “We've changed our hours. We're now open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. We had to make ourselves more accessible to the public."

The BVAAM isn’t the only area museum that is seeing fewer students. The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum had 108,798 student visitors from both the Educational Program and the Distance Learning program. In 2011, that number decreased to 91,936 students combined.

The Distance Learning program offers 'school bus' scholarships to many districts. This allows thousands of students throughout the Brazos Valley to visit the Bush Library and Museum, as well as students from Houston, Dallas and as far away as Louisiana.

Experiencing history in person is something Pittman says is priceless.

““This history in this community is important to our students whether you are Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, whomever," explained Pittman. "If you don't embrace your history then you lose it and it's very critical that students get a chance to actually come and visit this museum or any other museum to learn about their past."

Principal Deegear agrees.

“We want them to have as many outside experiences as possible. It's important they see beyond this building,” explained Deegear. “We are really blessed because there are lots of people in this community who are offering those experiences for free or at a discounted rate so our students can enjoy that."

Deegear says it’s all about experiencing history firsthand so the students of Kemp Elementary will be seeing a brighter future one field trip at a time.

“Our goal and our focus this time is to try and get them back into the museum. Starting in February for Black History we are posing a program to local churches to allow them to come in and be a part of our black history program. Admission is free to the public during that time, but we will be accepting donations during that time. That way we can get a bigger influx of people coming in so they can see what this museum is all about,” added Pittman.

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