When teacher Emmett Hayes tells people how much money he raised last year for field trips, the response is often a gasp.
No wonder. Last year, the teacher at La Puente High School collected $18,230.
"That's not bad for one teacher working on his own, is it?" Hayes asked.
At a time of school-budget austerity, when extracurricular activities and even regular academic programs have been cut to the bone, Hayes, assisted by his students, raises the money to pay for two ambitious field trips a year. Each semester Hayes takes 40 students from the predominantly Latino high school through the Owens Valley to the eastern Sierra Nevada. En route, they see a traditional source of Los Angeles water as well as many other sights. As Hayes puts it: "They begin to realize that their state is a living thing."
Four years ago, Hayes, 48, who is head of La Puente High's history and social science department, read that the University of California was encouraging all prospective undergraduates to do field work in a social science. Hayes conceived of a three-day trip from La Puente to Bridgeport, Calif., that would allow his college-bound students to experience the history, geography, geology and biology of their state.
Focus on Geography Class
Hayes thought that the experience would be especially worthwhile for the students in his California geography class because many come from financially strapped families and have had few opportunities to travel. "I find most of the kids have never even been to downtown Los Angeles or to the beach," he said.
The only problem was how to pay for the trip, which costs about $200 per student.
Hayes, who had no previous experience raising funds, decided to ask local businesses for support. He turned to the Chamber of Commerce for a list of businesses and industries in the City of Industry-La Puente area.
"I didn't know what I was doing," Hayes said. However, in his first "Appeal for Wheels," as he called the effort, he sent out 400 to 500 letters. The response: almost $6,000.
Since then, Hayes has refined his technique.
His list of potential donors has grown to about 6,000. Hayes said he regularly searches the newspapers for new prospects--mostly business people who have given to some other project or cause.
During the most recent "Appeal for Wheels" last spring, several student volunteers spent weeks pumping the names of possible donors into a computer (purchased with donations) and printing out personalized appeals. They spent $800 on stamps.
Hayes has attended several workshops on fund-raising at his own expense and has sought the advice of professionals, including Donna Bane, who raises money from foundations for California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Bane advised Hayes to revise his original letter of request so that prospective donors would learn more quickly what the money was actually being used for. She also offered him the use of her reference books.
According to Bane, Hayes is a natural at raising money for his students' cause. "However innocently he was going about it, he was doing very well," she said. "He was smarter than he thought he was."
It is the program itself that appeals to its patrons, Hayes said. These include hundreds of companies, foundations and individuals, from La Puente Gem and Mineral Club to Hansen Foods of the City of Industry, which stocks the students' rented tour bus with fruit juice. In the past, gifts have ranged from $5 to $2,000.
"People see that the money is really going to the kids," Hayes said. "It's not supporting a big organization, it's not going for administration, it's not going to the school district."
Each semester a new group of students rides through the variegated landscape between La Puente and Bridgeport. They study sites as diverse as salty Mono Lake, with its thousands of sea gulls and swarms of flies--the latter once a staple of the diet of the local Indians, and Manzanar--where thousands of Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II.
They explore a ghost town and a working cattle ranch. They study the effects on the land of ancient glaciers and volcanoes and the effect of the human will in such dramatic forms as the aqueduct that delivers Owens Valley water to the city of Los Angeles. They pore over maps and do their own mapping.
The students complete a 30-page work packet during the trip and keep journals, Hayes said. Hayes lectures on the bus, and he and a colleague conduct evening seminars during the two nights the group spends in a motel in the Mammoth Lakes area.
Students, who wash cars to raise money for the project, pay only $35 for food. A few who could not participate otherwise are quietly given "scholarships" for their meals, Hayes said. Hayes and other adult participants cover all their own expenses.
The impact of the trip on the students is often dramatic.