EXCLUSIVE: In Their Own Words — Why Middle School Teachers Won’t Organize The 8th Grade Washington Trip

WILMINGTON, MA — Earlier this week, Interim Middle School Principal Kevin Welch emailed parents, notifying them of the cancellation of the popular 8th Grade Field Trip to Washington DC.  Welch cited his inability to find a teacher to volunteer to organize the trip as his reason.

This led to hundreds of Wilmington parents, and some students, turning to social media, to publicly criticize the decision. Some chose to blame the teaching staff for refusing to volunteer to organize the trip.

Wilmington Apple is sharing the two letters below in an attempt to inform the public and combat misinformation it has read online and heard in the community about this story.

Below is a letter written by Wilmington Middle School teachers Missy Simmons and Lynda Spinazola, organizers of the Middle School’s 8th Grade Trip to Washington D.C. for the past nine years.

In the letter, Simmons and Spinazola cite “criticism and complaints from the overwhelmingly vocal minority of parents [in Wilmington]” as the primary reason for their decision to reluctantly stop volunteering to lead the popular field trip.

The letter, written back on June 15, is addressed to Interim Superintendent Paul Ruggiero, Assistant Superintendent Sean Gallagher, and Middle School Interim Principal Kevin Welch.

Dear Kevin, Paul, and Sean,

It is with a great deal of introspection, that we would like to inform you of our decision to no longer volunteer our time in heading up the Washington D.C. field trip.  This decision was not an easy one to make, especially in light of the fact that it is doubtful that another volunteer will step in to take our place. However, in light of recent events, we feel we have no choice.

The eighth grade field trip has been a long standing tradition in Wilmington for almost forty years. Ten years ago, Joanne Benton approached us and asked us to coordinate a trip that would bring Wilmington back to Washington D.C. We had never taken on an undertaking of that magnitude, and we were stymied with restrictions that made it difficult to get volunteers. However, after many hours of work, stress and perseverance, we were able to pull off our maiden trip successful. Since then, we have brought eight additional classes down to our Nation’s Capital, all were successful trips in which students were able to make real world connections to what they had learned in school. In addition, students also learned some real life lessons on how to successfully navigate their lives independently, without the benefit of daily parental guidance and successfully grow and learn from their experience. Each year, we averaged approximately 250 students per trip; this translates to approximately 2,250 students that have taken advantage of the opportunity to visit Washington over the last nine years. For many students, this was the trip of a lifetime. The trip was accessible to all students regardless of ability or financial difficulty. In the past nine years, the trip has remained affordable, especially when compared to surrounding communities that have professional tour companies oversee their trips with identical itineraries. Our trip averaged $300-$400 less than these communities, and our cost never rose more than $25-$35 per year. Even while keeping the trip affordable, we were still able to able to offer financial aid to any family that demonstrated need. We streamlined our financial aid process to be as simple as a parent or guardian sending us an email. Each year we provided $3,300-$4,000 ($36,000 over nine years) in financial aid making it possible for many students to attend despite financial issues.

Students of varied physical and intellectual abilities have regularly attended this trip. Through careful planning and preparation, we have been able to accommodate students with a myriad of different abilities and accommodations. In conjunction with our nurses, we spent hours anticipating their needs, and provided the necessary accommodations for them to have a safe and inclusive trip. Three years ago, we were able to bring a student with multiple physical handicaps to Washington D.C. Planning began a year before the trip date and was a collaborative effort between teachers, parents, administration, and the tour company. At the trip’s conclusion, not only did the student have an amazing experience, but the staff was profoundly proud and moved to have been able to be a part of her journey. Every year, the students amazed us at how interested, respectful, and mature they were while representing Wilmington Middle School on this trip. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, the pride and gratification derived from the trip is no longer enough to sustain it.

Throughout the time that we have coordinated this trip, we spent countless hours preparing, in addition to actual time chaperoning. On average, we typically spend approximately 200 hours in preparations alone, for a total of 1800 hours over the span of nine years. This year alone, we have had eight parent pre-meetings to determine how to best accommodate their particular child. All of this is done on our own time.  We have given up prep time and classroom time to accommodate parent schedules. Chaperoning the trip also requires us to be away from our own families. Over the course of the trip, we have given up 44 days with our own families to provide the experience for the children of Wilmington. Despite how much time it has consumed, we always felt confident that the positives outweighed the negatives. Over the last few years, the this feeling has been trending in the opposite direction. The sense we get from parents of late is that they are solely focused on their own particular child’s needs, rather than the group as a whole. While we understand that everyone loves their children, their inability to see the “big picture” puts us in a no-win situation. We now are being confronted with an increasing barrage of parent complaints and criticisms, delivered through a variety of avenues. We have been criticized through email, phone calls, in the community, as well as on social media. This year it finally seeped into our professional space. A Wilmington colleague decided to remove their child from the trip due to a soccer injury after tickets and rooms were reserved and paid for by our tour director. As this was April, they did not receive their non-refundable deposit back. Despite the fact that we tried to explain their deposit was already spent securing tickets, hotel, etc., and that we do not get that money back, they still felt it necessary to call us a “disgrace.” The parent complaints have become abusive and unreasonable. “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Compounding the parent issues that have worsened each year, we are seeing more and more students coming into eighth grade with very limited independent skills. This is not based on physical or intellectual abilities, but simply based on their lack of age-appropriate independence. This year alone, parents of students on field trips have called the Middle School office looking for an aspirin for their child or complaining that their child did not get a donut at the breakfast shop. During this year’s trip, one of our nurses was verbally abuse on three separate occasions by the same parents due to something their child has done independently instead of asking their group chaperone, despite our nurse going above and beyond trying to rectify their child’s mistake. Adolescents seem to be struggling now more than ever with emotional issues that cannot be reasonably supported on an overnight out of state field trip. At the end of the day, student safety is our greatest concern, for as we all know, the school, coordinators, and chaperones will be held ultimately responsible and face any repercussions resulting from this trip.

In the end, it saddens us to discontinue volunteering. Throughout the years, we have seen this trip be a positive experience for so many children. We have witnessed tremendous growth and confidence in hundreds of students in just the few days we are away. We poured our hearts and souls into making the Washington D.C. trip a lifetime memory for thousands of students that participated and it saddens us to step away. However, the feeling of relief is the most prominent feeling we have at this time, relief that we will no longer endure the criticisms and complaints from the overwhelmingly vocal minority of parents in this community.

Sincerely,

Missy Simmons & Lynda Spinazola

The following day, on June 16, Bill Fox – of Fox Tours – sent a letter to Ruggiero, Gallagher and Welch.  Fox worked with Simmons and Spinazola as the Wilmington’s trip tour company.

Greetings Gentlemen,

I’m forwarding you a note I sent to Lynda and Missy yesterday.

I truly believe that these two teachers are the most outstanding advocates for their students that I have ever experienced in over 35 years of operating student tour programs.

I do work with a lot of very motivated and dedicated educators from all around New England, who also work extremely hard to bring their students to Washington DC, New York, and other destinations. But when it comes to the WMS program, which I consider the best of all the trips I produce, Lynda and Missy have raised the bar above all others in terms of their hard work, dedication and smarts. 

While I necessarily regret their decision, I applaud it because they both encountered so much frustrating trying to achieve their objectives this year. I honestly detected a level of stress from them both that I had never seen before. Not that every trip we’ve worked on has been a cakewalk and perfectly executed, but we’ve always been able to overcome any obstacles to make the trip successful. 

Lynda and Missy are two of the most caring and compassionate educators I’ve encountered, always doing the best they can for their students. If you want a perfect example, let them tell you about the young lady they were able to accommodate three years ago — just an amazing story.

But given the frustrations that Lynda and Missy encountered this year, I completely understand their decision. WMS and your WPS system are going to miss them, just like me.

Thanks,

Bill Fox, Fox Tours

These letters were shared with the Wilmington School Committee at their meeting on Wednesday night and read into the record.  The School Committee intends on discussing the matter at its next meeting on Wednesday, September 27 at 7pm at WHS and invites parents to come and ask questions.

(Cover photo is from Jamie Boudreau.)

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6 thoughts

  1. My children attended the Wilmington Schools and went on to have very successful college experiences. I know their success in part was based on the education they received in Wilmington from many extremely committed teachers at all levels including Lynda Spinazola who taught them math in 6th grade. The field trip to Washington is a privilege, not a right, and should be appreciated by students and parents alike. It is sad to think that there are ignorant parents in this town who foolishly feel the cancellation of the trip is related to a contract issue. Shame on those parents for thinking.

    1. Well, I was the only press at the meeting. Live-tweeted the whole thing. These letters weren’t in the press packet, so I had to put a request in for it. So, exclusive in the sense that you weren’t going to read the letters anywhere else. Also, when the letters were read into the record, a couple of key details were omitted, including the date the letters were sent. I think people were left with the impression that the letters were sent recently, not back in June.

  2. I applaud Lynda and Missy’s decision. They are correct about their perceptions of parents, social media and the emotional turmoil these snowflakes are experiencing.

  3. Mr. Hayes, you did an awesome job in keeping us informed. My son went to Washington DC this past June and had a great time. I know that many of his friends had wonderful experiences. I am frustrated by those ignorant parents who are selfishly thinking of themselves and their children as a special group that needed to be exclusively catered for. Their actions caused no future D C trip for the current 8th graders who have been anxiously waiting for this trip for their transition to High School. I am saddened that this has to come to this conclusion.

  4. I find this part very troubling… “..we are seeing more and more students coming into eighth grade with very limited independent skills. This is not based on physical or intellectual abilities, but simply based on their lack of age-appropriate independence.”. I agree with the sentiment but worry about how this can be reversed. In a time when we monitor every move a child makes at home, school, outside..how every mistake they make is treated as a criminal offense rather than often times, a mistake, an opportunity to learn from that mistake. Schools have a zero tolerance policy. What else can we expect from children? I think it speaks volumes about the generation as a whole and what we as parents have allowed to happen.

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