A tour guide cozied up next to a statue of astronaut Tom Stafford. She asked the class of elementary school students if anyone knew why he was famous.
"He's a scuba diver!" one kid shouted.
To be fair, old-school space suits and dive suits look pretty similar. It was a good guess. But that's why these students were here — to learn about Tom Stafford and all the other important Oklahomans found in the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum.
The kids from Parmalee Elementary School had a chance to tour the museum through the Free Field Trip Program, which is funded by other kids.
The program started in the 2007-08 school year. The Oklahoma Heritage Association teen board was brand new and looking for a project. The economy was struggling, and teachers said their schools couldn't afford trips to the museum.
"It's something that everybody needs to experience," said Morgan Roberts, a senior at Westmoore High School and this year's chairman of the Oklahoma Heritage Association teen board. "They need to know about Oklahoma. We're not just sports all the time. We're not just music. We're everything."
The teen board decided to create the Free Field Trip Program. They organized a battle of the bands fundraiser, which raises thousands each year.
The program includes transportation, admission, lunches and other costs associated with a field trip to the museum. About 6,000 students benefit each year.
The field trips are open to any school in Oklahoma and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, call 235-4458 or go to oklahomaheritage.com.
The heritage museum is home to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and all kinds of fun, interactive exhibits about important
I tagged along on a tour with the students from Parmalee Elementary, who were so well-behaved. Kudos to their teachers.
"Can everybody hear my voice?" Meredith Knowles announced above the din of excited school kids. The "yes" reply was drawn out and loud. Knowles, museum services manager, divvied up the students into small tour groups and led the pack inside.
The students carried pencils and clip boards with worksheets.
They looked like tiny taskmasters.
"This is fun!" Makenzie Tart whispered to her friend, hugging her clip board and looking like she was trying very hard not to run with excitement.
The most popular stop on the tour was the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame is a bright, translucent blue wall. This was especially relevant to a couple boys whose favorite color is blue. I'm pretty sure this convinced them to put their lives on track to be listed on this wall. They were really, really excited about the color blue.
Kids looked for famous names on the wall and surveyed at all the years dating back to 1928.
"2001 — that's when I was born!" one girl squealed excitedly. I immediately felt old.
My favorite stop was the Bust Garden, which seems like the name of something you'd find at Oktoberfest.
Knowles told the students stories about Jim Thorpe, Sequoyah and other famous folks crafted in metal. They asked questions and made notes on their little clipboards.
The students poked their heads over a statue of a pair of shoulders and said what they'd like to be famous for. They wanted to be psychologists and police officers, teachers and veterinarians.
Excelling in any field can land you in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, Knowles said. The kids listened quietly. You don't have to be a football star or a governor or a billionaire. You don't have to be rich or famous. You have to make the world a better place in your own way.
Whether you're an astronaut or a scuba diver.