Step No. 6: Engage Educators
Through anecdotal evidence and guesswork only, it's not hard to imagine that hundreds of schoolteachers and home-schooling parents step through the gates of EPCOT every day.
Yet Disney no longer does anything to engage them, to bring EPCOT into the classroom. That needs to change.
From opening until about 1994, when "EPCOT Center" changed to "Epcot," teachers could visit a location in Future World where they could view information about the park and its subjects, explore research material that could help them design EPCOT-themed lessons, and talk to a staff of knowledgeable experts and librarians. No, it wasn't exactly a kinetic, exciting attraction for the whole family to share -- but for moms and dads who were teachers, it was a "side trip" that could be accomplished while the rest of the family visited the exhibits at CommuniCore below.
It was also a much-needed, much-missed way to inspire educators to think of new ways to bring the themes of EPCOT home with them. (And if a kid here or there was intrigued to perhaps visit EPCOT themselves, so much the better!)
As a result of the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in January 2002, there are fewer and fewer hours in a week for teachers to explore topics that aren't in approved curricula. However, this is where Disney could come in. After it disbanded its once-successful Disney Educational Productions unit a few years back (formerly part of Disney Consumer Products), Disney seems to have essentially given up on the educational market. Not a surprise, since it's not exactly the biggest moneymaker imaginable; teaching kids never has been an initiative undertaken to get rich.
But given that it's tougher and tougher, in the wake of NCLB, to teach "off text," EPCOT could stand to make some terrific inroads. By hiring and maintaining one or two staff positions that focus solely on turning the concepts of EPCOT into "NCLB-approved" material, EPCOT could develop innovative, fun and imaginative lessons about transportation, communications, energy, nutrition, geography, math, science and language arts. With a relatively inexpensive marketing effort (with an annual budget in the range of, say, $100,000), Disney could make EPCOT the center of modest educational initiatives ... and, perhaps, drive a few hundred more guests through the turnstiles each year, in the form of teachers and students who want to find out more for themselves.
EPCOT could bring back the Teacher's Center/EPCOT Outreach idea, turning over just a couple of hundred square feet of space to this effort. It's a small price to pay for potentially big returns.
EPCOT was made to inspire. By reaching out to educators in a very modest way, EPCOT could inspire many more than just those who set foot in the park each year. It's an inexpensive way to give back to the community and, in a small way, to help improve American education.