I recently learned of the decision by Ms. Spinazola and Ms. Simmons to cancel the 8th grade field trip to Washington, DC. What were most disheartening were the reasons they presented to the public in making their decision. I happen to know a lot about the creation and history of the trips. I have a pretty good idea of what made them successful, and a like understanding of why no teacher wants to continue taking on the task of planning and supervising the trip.
Bill Peabody, a then social studies teacher, came to me as the new principal of the North Intermediate in 1970 with a plan to take his class to Niagara Falls for several days to reinforce the geography lessons from class. I gave him the green light, got the superintendent and school board approvals, and the trip was a rousing success. The following year, we expanded the trip to all students, on two conditions; they had to have a good behavior record, and, they had to be passing all subjects. Little did we realize at the time that the trip would be such an academic and self-discipline motivator. In those days, we rotated the trip between 3 destinations, Washington and Williamsburg, Pennsylvania Dutch Country and Gettysburg, and Niagara Falls and Toronto.
In all those years, we never had and incident with a child. In fact, we usually received accolades from restaurants, hotels and casual observers, because of the students’ good behavior. The selection process we used was vital and necessary as my philosophy was we are “not asking teachers to be responsible for students 500 miles from home for 4 days that we couldn’t trust in the classroom/school setting.” When I moved to the West Intermediate in 1979, we expanded the program and combined the two schools, without skipping a beat.
Turning to the parent issues, rule one with parents was they were not allowed to be chaperones. Experience proved that parent chaperones tend to focus on their own child, at the expense of the rest, and, although well behaved, some students need more supervision than others, and only the teacher chaperones know who they are. And of course, we had parents that tried to manipulate exceptions for their child. All were rebuffed, and there was no court of appeals. That is why the trips prospered. There were rules, and everyone understood them.
After 53 years in education, no one supports parent involvement more that I do. There are roles for everyone in a school setting, especially today. Parents are partners, and I encourage their involvement. However, in the day-to-day operation of the schools, the final decisions rest primarily with the principal. If the principal does not communicate clearly everyone’s role and support his/her staff, that is the quickest highway to low staff morale. I firmly subscribe to the rule, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. I suggest the school board, superintendent and principal show strong support for the teachers’ involved, and the minority of complaining parents rethinks their criticism of such dedicated individuals so willing to serve and protect their children.
Finally, let me confess the real value of these trips. Over the years, we found that while seeing and observing all the historical venues was uplifting and educational, be assured, the real value added to these trips is instant maturation. You have students 500 miles away from home, for 4-5 days, in a room with 3 other kids, and no mother to serve them, clean up after them, organize them, and tell them what to do. A perfect exclamation point to their middle school career as they prepare to take on the responsibilities of high school.
William J. Fay Jr.
Wilmington School Board, 1966-1969
Principal, North Intermediate, 1970-1979
Principal, West Intermediate, 1979-1985
Superintendent, Wilmington Public Schools, 1989-1992
Principal, Banyan Creek Elementary School, Delray Beach , FL 1995-2015
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