Library’s award-winning field trip program brings over 1,000 students to the library every year

On Sunday, the Waukegan Public Library accepted the Upstart Innovation Award by the Public Library Association for its “Bus to Us” field-trip program at the annual American Library Association national conference. Bus to Us brings over one thousand elementary school children to the library throughout the year for free curriculum-guided visits.

Formerly the Highsmith Innovation Award, the Upstart Innovation Award, sponsored by Upstart, a Demco Company and the Public Library Association, recognizes a public library’s innovative and creative service program to the community.“We sponsor award programs because it’s one way we at Upstart can help make best practices visible. I’m glad other libraries will have an opportunity to learn from [Waukegan Public Library’s] experience through this award, and to build upon it,” wrote Matt Mulder, Director of Education Markets at Upstart.

Created in 2011, after the local school district field trip budget was cut, the Bus to Us program gives students a free outing outside the classroom while giving them access to, and a better understanding of, the resources available to them at the public library. In addition, hands-on lessons based on the annual theme of the library’s learning museum educate students on a variety of topics from dinosaurs to water conservation. To encourage repeat visits by the students and their families, each trip culminates with a tour of the Library, a bilingual book bag and encouragement to fill out the enclosed application to get a library card of their own.

This year, the Bus to Us curriculum is tied to the Early Learning Center theme, “Oink, Baa, Moo: Farm Fun”, which helps students experience life on a farm with interactive displays on gardening, dairy products, and animal sounds. In addition, students can milk a life size fiberglass milking cow and watch real live chicks hatch in an incubator. Lesson plans include the topics of soil, erosion, seasons, crops, and animal life.

Bus to Us is fully funded by the Harold M. and Adeline S. Morrison Foundation, including the cost of the transportation and curriculum development based on Illinois State Board of Education learning standards. “We were thrilled by the whole idea of Bus to Us, and how successfully the Library executed it,” said Amy Morrison Heinrich of the Morrison Family Foundation. “The program gave hundreds of children access to vital learning opportunities about the environment—opportunities they would have otherwise missed.” Since the program was implemented, almost 3,000 students have participated in Bus to Us.

Waukegan is lucky to have a nationally-recognized resource and community treasure in its library.  We are so genuinely happy to be able to facilitate access for Waukegan’s public school students to learn about and enjoy the richness of programming, resources and Early Learning Center exhibits that the Waukegan Public Library offers,” said Lois Morrison, executive director of the Morrison Family Foundation.

In addition to the Upstart Innovation Award, the Waukegan Public Library was recently awarded the 2013 Institute of Museum and Library Services National Medal. The nation’s highest honor conferred on museums and libraries for service to the community, the National Medal celebrates institutions that make a difference for individuals, families, and communities. Only five libraries and five museums were awarded the National Medal. In 2012, the American Library Association’s Marshall Cavendish Award for excellence in library programming went to the library’s Early Learning Center, a children’s hands-on learning museum created to address pre-literacy needs among Waukegan children from birth to seven years old.

With its programs designed to encourage children to check out books and other media, the goal of the Bus to Us Program is that children come to the Library to read, explore new concepts, and leave inspired. The library is currently scheduling field trips to the library starting this Fall. Interested teachers and principals from Waukegan schools, public and private, should call David Villalobos at (847) 623-2041 ext. 234 to schedule a date for their class. Field trips run every Friday throughout the school year and are filling up quickly.