“I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.” – Walt Disney
Growing up, I was the kid who enjoyed school. I even grew up to be a high school math teacher. Timed multiplication worksheets and memorizing state capitals didn’t bother me but it did seem meaningless to some of my classmates – they just didn’t see the point. And, looking back, I can’t say I blame them. After all, it’s hard to see how knowing Montpelier is the capital of Vermont will help you write software code for the coolest real-time game engine or design the next skyscraper.
That first year teaching I had trouble understanding why sixteen year olds didn’t find factoring to solve an algebraic equation or effectively using the Pythagorean Theorem as satisfying or interesting as I did; maybe because I was trying to educate my students more than entertain them. After all, you can make sines and cosines only so interesting but I certainly was more successful as I brought more hands-on, dare I say fun math activities into my classroom. Walt was on to something.
As a teacher, I also had to contend with the coolness factor. Unfortunately, not all aspects of pop culture celebrate learning or excellence in school. And that’s a darn shame because knowledge gives you the tools to pursue your dreams, whatever they may be.
Walt Disney World as a Classroom
To me, the best classroom is one that combines book learning with the philosophy that experience is the best teacher; the collaboration of the two contributes to real understanding. What better classroom than Walt Disney World?
I was thrilled to stumble upon the The Disney Youth Education Series (Y.E.S.). Y.E.S. makes learning relevant by integrating National Education Standards and real world applications in accredited educational programs. How cool is that?
Specially trained Disney Cast Members facilitate these 2-3.5 hour programs which bring students backstage at some of their favorite attractions all in the name of learning and fun. Students will see first-hand how theories and principles in different disciplines are deftly leveraged by Imagineers to create attractions that both entertain and educate Walt Disney World guests, just as Walt Disney had hoped.
Some students may be relieved to know that there is no actual “classroom.” Instead, knowledgeable and engaging facilitators will find a quiet spot within the park to explain the program’s core concepts. Then, it’s off to the rides!
Something for Everyone
Science and technology are an essential part of many Walt Disney World attractions but bits and bytes alone can’t create the magic and fantasy that is so intrinsically Walt Disney World. The arts and the Disney culture are as much responsible for the success of the Happiest Place on Earth as the natural and physical sciences. This is good news for students and their teachers; the Disney Y.E.S. is comprehensive and offers nineteen programs in four different areas, Arts and Humanities, Leadership and Careers, Natural Sciences, and Physical Sciences. In short, there is something for everyone. Programs are geared to a specific age range and are available for students from grades K through 12 although the choices are more limited for children in the primary grades.
Here’s a sampling of the offerings.
Disney’s Wild by Nature “Walk on the wild side and explore the fascinating and surprising world of animal behavior! Through data collection, animal observations, select attractions and hands-on activities, students learn how animal research is helping.”
Disney’s World of Physics: Energy and Waves “Experience the Magic Kingdom®
Park through the mind of a Theme Park scientist! This interactive adventure studies select attractions to showcase the physics concepts of optics, acoustics, and magnetism in a real world context. Special hands-on examinations bring this program to life with a unique Disney touch.”
Magic Behind the Show: Improv & Teamwork “Think on your feet. During this
entertainment adventure, students participate in improvisational activities, practice and develop performance and team-building techniques, and come to know one another as members of a
creative team. Using their new knowledge, they perform a unique improvisational production.”
Disney’s Leadership Excellence: The Inside Track “Go to the head of the class. Your students – tomorrow’s business leaders – investigate proven management strategies employed within The Walt Disney Company, see how effective leadership produces innovation, and identify tactics they can adapt to help promote their own personal and professional success. This program offers practical training for students who aim to be productive leaders in their communities and careers.”
So, How does it Work?
If you’re part of a youth group of ten or more, you’re in. Reservations must be made at least six weeks in advance and up to a full year prior to your group’s preferred date. Each program requires a theme park admission ticket but Disney comes to the rescue by offering significantly discounted ticket packages that include admission to one Y.E.S. program. Additional programs may be added for $26 each. Unfortunately, existing annual passes and other Disney tickets will not be eligible for entry – tickets must be purchased through the Y.E.S. program.
Help, I’m Not Part of a Group
Good news! Disney has brought Open Enrollment to the Y.E.S. program this year so even if your eight year old doesn’t have nine close and personal friends you’re brave enough to chaperone at Disney World, he can still learn about the latest marine conservation methods. Open Enrollment sessions run on specific dates; they are running next during June and July 2010. Unless your child is over eighteen, either mom or dad will also need to attend the program. Participants in Disney’s Y.E.S. Open Enrollment programs enjoy the same benefits as larger groups, including discounted ticket packages. Compare a standard adult 5- day park hopper pass at $280 plus tax with the discounted Y.E.S. 5-day park hopper (including admission to one Y.E.S. program) which is priced at $157.70 with tax! There is a $4.50 handling charge per Y.E.S. order but it won’t break the bank. With the deep ticket discounts and behind the scenes looks at innovative attractions, I can’t think of a better reason to plan a summer Walt Disney World Resort trip.
Overcrowding won’t be an issue in Disney Y.E.S. Open Enrollment programs. They generally run with ten to fifteen students, ensuring lots of individual attention. So, how does Disney handle programs that are open to a wide range of grade levels? The Cast Member I spoke with at Disney Youth Programs reassured me that Disney groups participants by age and tailors instruction appropriately. For example, the Energy and Waves program may have one session for 3rd and 4th graders and another for 5th and 6th graders.
For more information and to register, visit Disney Youth Programs.
In my grade book, Disney gets a gold star for making education cool, relevant, and engaging. And isn’t that what it’s really all about? If your family has participated in a Disney Y.E.S. program, please use the comments section to share your review.
Lisa M. Battista is the author of Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers When she’s not chasing after her little ones, you can most likely find her at the beach or in the kitchen trying her hand at a new recipe.
Image: (Copyright Disney)