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As school budgets tighten, Shell Factory still helping students get closer to nature

By Staff | May 17, 2009

An innovative program designed to both help children connect with nature and allow schools to keep field trips in place in a turbulent economy is now being implemented at the Shell Factory & Nature Park.
The park – through it’s charitable foundation The Nature Park Environmental Education Foundation, Inc. – has designated funds to provide free bus transportation for school field trips.
“With schools doing budget cuts many field trips are being canceled,” said Nature Park Director Megan Benesch. “So the Nature Park is giving back to the community by funding the school buses. It’s so important for these young children to get in touch with nature because when they are adults the burden will be on their shoulders to save our planet.”
Benesch reports that she will have about 4,000 children visit the park through the school system this year. “And I am getting more calls about the field trips daily.”
Shell Factory owners Pamela and Tom Cronin Sr. truly believe in the program. Besides designating existing funds from their nonprofit foundation, they recently held a fund-raiser to fund even more trips for the kids.
The event was a celebrity roast of Fort Myers Councilman and mayoral candidate Randy Henderson. Numerous business and civic leaders attended to support the foundation.
“The Roast of Randy Henderson was a highly decorated, wonderfully choreographed evening of fun and nonsense,” said Pamela. “It was held at Harborside Event Center, and the pirate-themed occasion brought together an eclectic mixture of people from across the community.”
Master of Ceremonies and organizer, Tom Cronin, Sr., seemed pleased with the results. “We raised funds for 28 field trips. With the loss in revenue for the Lee County School System most field trips have been cut from the budget because of transportation costs, but since we are able to fund the busses we will be able to host almost 2,000 children during the last ten weeks of school.”
“The effort on the part of the Shell Factory will provide additional educational opportunities for our students and this is very positive for kids,” said Lee County Schools Superintendent James Browder. “I thank the Shell Factory for stepping up and helping our students.”
Local principals and teachers are delighted with the program.
One school that has taken advantage of the opportunity for the field trips is Patriot Elementary in Cape Coral.
“I am so excited and grateful that the Shell Factory Nature Park enables us to send students for field trips,” Patriot Principal Carol Bromby said. “I still remember taking my own first grader there 35 years ago.”
Teacher Iris Suarez-Colon of Patriot recently took her class on the trip. “I think this is wonderful,” she said. “They are teaching so much about nature and loving animals, and how we need to protect them. The more information we have about animals, the more we’ll help with nature.”
She complimented Nature Park Director Benesch on how she handled the children’s visit. “It’s nice when you have someone who works well with children and she’s very knowledgeable. She also knows children need specific rules and she explained them right when we got here.” Benesch spends a great deal of time designing her lectures, tailoring them specifically to each grade level.
Kindergarten teacher Annette Connolly was one of the first teachers to learn about the opportunity and has helped coordinate the trips.
“My greatest thrill was watching the faces of my students who have never been on a field trip before,” Connolly said.