Jenifer Boatwright's 3rd grade class never left Eucalyptus Elementary when they took their field trip to New York City on Friday.


The class toured the Museum of Natural History via the Internet, using a program created by Scholastic.


"I heard about the field trip through Scholastic," Boatwright said. "I love virtual field trips because it gets my students out of the classroom without ever leaving the classroom. We have been able to experience so many different places through webcasts and virtual field trips. Scholastic does a wonderful job with theirs."


The virtual tour was free, and was created to accompany "Wonderstruck," by author Brian Selznick. Part of the book takes place at the museum, and the virtual field trip, which is hosted by Selznick and museum president Ellen V. Futter, makes stops at the museum's Wolf Diorama, Ahnighito Meteorite and Giant Anopheles Mosquito exhibits. The field trip introduced Boatwright to the book and she ended up ordering it for her class.


Scholastic is probably best known as a publisher of children's books including the Harry Potter series in America, but this multimedia presentation is in keeping with a company that does a lot more than just books.


"We're essentially the largest publisher and distributor of children's books in the world," said Billy DiMichele, Scholastic's vice president of Corporate Productions & Creative Services. "But we're also the largest publisher of educational software in the country. We're also a media company; we have television shows. The company is really, really huge and diverse in that way."


Although she'd prefer to take her students on actual physical field trips, the district's tight budget and tough economic times for parents have meant Boatwright's students have been going on virtual trips instead.


"Naturally, actual field trips are much more engaging and hands-on. They get to go and do something that they would typically not be able to do," she said. "Unfortunately, our fundraisers did not do well this year and actual field trips are going to be a little difficult to manage. We used to get about $15 per student and this year we are down to $5. Virtual field trips provide a great alternative and they are free."


Scholastic's virtual field trips are more focused on teachers' needs than merely showing DVDs in class, according to Boatwright.


"Sure, you can find pictures and descriptions, but you don't get to see it they way they present it," she said. "Their 'live' presentations this year during Thanksgiving (at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts) were amazing and the students loved them."


Scholastic's next live virtual field trip will a tour of Ellis Island on March 29.


"I want my students to be able to experience as much of the world as possible, even if we never leave the classroom," Boatwright said. "I want to spark something inside them that motivates them to see the world for themselves when they grow up. I want them to say, 'Hey, I remember going there in 3rd grade.' They are going to remember these experiences much more than who taught them how to add fractions."