Sunday, April 06, 2008

Ten Steps to a Better EPCOT: Step No. 6

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.


Anonymous said...

Great idea! In 1994, while on my honeymoon, I was able to get into EPCOT for FREE because I was an educator. Now that was a wonderful perk for a teacher!

Ryan P. Wilson said...

As a preschool teacher, the word, and world, of tomorrow means a lot to me. My class loves to talk about my trips, before and after, and resources like these would really be a way to not only bring Epcot into my classroom, but to expand the concepts into the worlds they know on the playground, in their cars, and at home.

Tuckenie said...

YES! Not only that but it's easy advertising and publicity. Why Disney doesn't do this stuff anymore is astounding. Talk about missed opportunities. It probably wouldn't show as an immediate profit but it would wind up bringing in money. I can't believe some suit shut this down...

Anonymous said...

Disney has found other ways to provide to the educational community. Each year the entire cast participates in a school supply drive for children in the community who otherwise would not have the necessary supplies needed in the classroom. They also promote "Magic Music Days" an exceptional program open to schools nationwide. The company provides to the local community supporting "Boys and Girls Clubs", "Teacherific Award" and "Dreamers and Doers". I'm very proud to know that they have diversified in the way they have.

Anonymous said...

Education was such a core mission of EPCOT, it's incredible how they could drop it -- especially considering how important it is to provide a proper education to future generations. I hear that the educational programs provided by Disney were top rate, designed by the best educators in the country. And they were not limited just to visiting EPCOT Center but through video links they could do presentations right in the classroom. Just imagine what could be accomplished with today's technology!!

Epcot82 said...

You're right anonymous -- but that's not the kind of educational outreach we're talking about here ... it's more about returning education to being a core mission of EPCOT. There's no doubt Disney does great work, but they're missing the boat on opportunities at EPCOT, in a very big way.

Preacher101 said...

We homeschool our kids, and my wife also works part time at Walt Disney World. Every now and then she plans a day to take them to EPCOT and do some learnin'. However, it would be nice if they had at least a packet of additional information or something on the purely educational side. I love Disney with a passion, but I think overall it has become too commercial.

Anonymous said...

Another lovely photo, Epcot82 -- I know the exact spot. And posted on my birthday!

As another homeschooling parent (but not living in Florida), I would love to see Disney produce educational guides for all of WDW.

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