Lots of schools in L.A. Unified School District have limited budgets for field trips" says Yunju Ray, Education Manager. Field trips can be impossible for some schools due to a lack of transportation funding. So the Collectors Foundation provides one-third of the annual funding necessary for free school bus trips to the Petersen Automotive Museum.
These coveted field trips provide terrific incentive for students to improve grades, attendance and behavior. Yunju says that teachers tell their students, “If you do great in class, you can go to Petersen.” Clayton Drescher, program coordinator, echoes this. “They’ll schedule the honors group for the semester or the perfect attendance group for the semester,” he says.
This incentive is important for L.A. inner city schools. Yunju relays, “The L.A. Unified School District faces a lot of challenges. Half of the students don’t graduate. These inner city schools have unique challenges.”
Yet those challenges seem to melt away the moment students walk in the door at Petersen. Yunju reports that they receive so many testimonials from teachers about how children’s attention and learning change like night and day in the Petersen hands-on learning environment. “They say the children become so attentive,” Yunju relays. “They’re exposed to a whole different world—a world they’ve never seen."
Petersen focuses on teaching history, science and visual arts. “All the exhibits tie in with the state-mandated education guidelines,” Clayton explains. “The current alternative fuels exhibit ties in with science and engineering. The oil paintings of automobiles on canvas, plus the design and customizing aspects speak to fine arts.”
Yunju adds, “The hands-on Discovery Center focuses on science principles and concepts related to the automobile. These kids have never experienced classes like that. There are all these fun things they’ve never been able to do in school.”
Yunju and Clayton receive many a thank-you notes from teachers and students. “They help us understand what they learn here,” Yunju says. Clayton explains that they receive “drawings and thank you letters—lots for the low riders! They are really exact duplicates of the artwork,” he says. The owner of the low riders on display, who is also the editor of Low Rider magazine, was present when fourth graders were touring. Clayton sent him some of the student artwork that exactly replicated his cars.
Clayton explains that Petersen holds a teacher preview each fall, which approximately 150 teachers attend. Some of the teachers book their field trips right then and there. The museum also keeps a rolling list. “We use up all our funding by the end of the year,” Clayton explains. Yunju chimes in, “More schools want to come than we can afford. We try to accommodate all the requests, try not to turn anyone away.”
It’s important for school children to be able to take the field trip to Peterson because it adds a real-life component to their learning. “When kids come to the museum to see these cars, they see that cars are not only transportation, but an expression of yourself,” Yunju says. “It helps them understand the city. L.A. is a very auto-centric city. The American love of cars changed the way we live and how cities are formed. When they view an exhibit and share knowledge, they start to understand. This is an important contribution to children’s education.”
The special exhibit Treasure of the Vault shows that it’s “important to collect, preserve and tell the story,” Yunju says. “That someone made the effort and has the passion to share. It’s wonderful.”
Clayton echoes, “There are so many tie-ins with curriculum—with science, with visual arts—explored through the world of the automobile. So they may realize an interest in it as a hobby. They make a connection, enjoy it, get value out of it,” he says. “It teaches them the importance of collecting everyday objects. Back in the 50’s, everyone had a ’50 Chevy. But someone preserved it, and it’s special today. It helps the students’ thinking about the future and the past.”
Yunju says “The automobile is a big part of our lives in modern society. It’s hard to imagine life without it.” Clayton adds, “It’s one of our greatest inventions. It’s much more than a tool.”
Yunju reports that one in seven jobs in the U.S. is related to the automobile. “It’s a huge sector of employment,” she says. So the museum also focuses on career development in the automotive industry. “There are so many different jobs in the collector’s world,” she says. “We want to expose kids to those options.”
For more information on the Collector's Foundation, visit: www.collectorsfoundation.org.