One hundred twenty-three Baldwin County students recently made their way to Valdosta’s Wild Adventures theme park for a wonderful trip, but it turns out that just getting there was an adventure in itself.
It’s an experience that has served as a reminder of the good that can be done when the community comes together for its children.
Alicia Jenkins is an education coordinator for Oak Hill Middle School’s YES program, which is funded by the Georgia Department of Education and is an extension of the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Jenkins and her colleagues had spent the summer teaching the program’s Summer Adventure campers lessons surrounding this year’s theme — “The Wild Adventures of YES.”
Along with a variety of STEAM and other learning activities, they had focused on ideas like helping students think outside of the box in regards to all of the possibilities that await them.
That’s where the idea of a Wild Adventures field trip came into play.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Jenkins said the camps hadn’t been able to go on any major field trips, and coordinators were hopeful that this would give the students an opportunity to see real-life examples of the things they had spent the summer learning about. They would have chances to see science in action through the physics of roller coasters or by observing different animal habitats. And, since this year’s camp included an entrepreneurship aspect, they could also explore future career possibilities. The trip, which was set to be funded by 21st Century, would be a first for many of the students.
“A lot of the kids had not been to any type of amusement park at all, and this wasn’t going to cost them anything, so a lot of the kids that don’t get to participate due to funds were going to get a chance to participate and see a lot of the stuff that we had learned about upfront,” Jenkins said. “It wasn’t going to be something they just read in a book or somebody told them about or they watched on TV. They were actually going to get to experience it firsthand.”
Jenkins and her co-workers took care of all prerequisites for the trip and talked back and forth with the Wild Adventures representatives in their planning. Everything appeared to be set.
So, imagine Jenkins’ surprise when, just a few days before the trip was to take place, she received an email from Wild Adventures stating that they couldn’t accept a purchase order for the tickets.
“That’s really the only way we could pay for the tickets was through a purchase order,” Jenkins explained. “I don’t know of any school district that would pay straight up beforehand for tickets.”
When her boss reached out to the representative, it was confirmed that a purchase order would not be accepted. Jenkins was told there were two options. One was to cancel the trip.
“I just couldn’t settle with that,” she said. “I couldn’t accept that. I couldn’t look at the kids and tell them they were not going.”
The next option was to reach out to the community for pledges to sponsor student tickets.
“It was a long shot, but I had to make sure that I had exhausted every possible avenue before I canceled the trip because the kids had really been looking forward to it,” she said. “We had based our entire program around it.”
Jenkins reached out to a couple of local businesses; she met with her colleagues to discuss ideas like car washes and barbecue plate sales; she even emailed US Mon. Raphael Warnock to inquire about the acceptance of purchase orders. Ultimately, the program needed to come up with about $4,000. So, at about 2:30 pm on a Thursday afternoon, Jenkins made a plea to the community on social media, and then she and her fellow coordinators said a prayer.
With uncertainty looming, she left the post and waited.
It was around 5 o’clock the next morning when Jenkins awoke to a pleasant surprise.
It was then that she discovered the program had received $5,000 in pledges for the trip.
“Friday morning, we got the word that we did have enough money and that the community definitely came out and they all pledged that we would have the money to take the kids to Wild Adventures.”
That’s not quite the end of the story, though.
In another twist of fate, Jenkins got a call back from Wild Adventures after lunch stating that they would accept the purchase order. It turns out it had all been a misunderstanding.
Though in the end it wasn’t needed, Jenkins and her colleagues certainly saw that the community had their back. And in the end, 123 students and a few adults experienced a wonderful trip.
“They did everything,” Jenkins said.
The students explored habitats, enjoyed a buffet lunch, played in the water park, rode roller coasters and talked to employees for ideas about their own career paths. The kids paid for nothing. Apart from what was already funded, Sinclair Oconee Homes paid for souvenir cups that could be refilled throughout the day, and a couple of local churches even sponsored two cabanas to help students beat the heat.
For Jenkins, seeing the way the community supported the kids was second only to seeing the students take it all in.
“The kids had a phenomenal time,” Jenkins said. “It was a tremendous support from the community to see these kids get to go and experience that…. I think it meant a lot to the kids that we said we were going to do this and we actually went through and we did it… Just to see their faces as they ran around the park, that was enough for me.”