Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: BrightFarms offers virtual reality field trips

Virtual reality allows kids with special needs to go on field trips without leaving school

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

By Amy Schwabe, MetroParent Magazine

Megan Rierdon, a special education teacher at Milwaukee’s 53rd Street School, isn’t able to take her students, who have special needs ranging from autism to orthopedic impairments, on field trips as much as she would like.

Going on field trips can be challenging because of the stress and anxiety for kids with autism of being outside the normal routine, and also because of the cost of special transportation,” she said.

So, when she heard about the virtual reality experience offered to schools by BrightFarms, she was intrigued. BrightFarms is a company with five farms throughout the country that use greenhouses to grow produce which is then sold to local grocery stores, such as Pick ‘n Save.

Fallon Lowe, one of BrightFarms’ head growers, said the company decided to bring a virtual reality field trip experience to some local schools in honor of Earth Day. At 53rd School, Rierdon’s seven students were joined by about 30 other students with special needs for the field trip at the school on April 18.

The kids were split up into groups which rotated among three different stations over the course of the two-and-a-half hour field trip. Kids got the opportunity to talk to farmers, see farming equipment and plant seeds. They also made their own salad, and Rierdon was impressed that “Three kids said that salad is their favorite food now!”

And, of course, the main event was the virtual reality station. Rierdon said, “The kids sat down in a chair, put on a virtual reality headpiece and saw a tour walking around an entire greenhouse.”

Rierdon said she loved to see how engaged her students were in their virtual field trip.

“The kids were reaching down to touch the dirt and waving to the people they saw,” Rierdon said. “It was cool that they were cognitively able to connect in the same way they would have had they actually been there.”

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