Schools resume extended travel

Students pack for U.K., Caribbean, as terrorism fears diminish

Rachael Scarborough King; Register Staff
December 30, 2007

The trip that some North Branford High School students will take this spring sounds like many people’s dream British vacation: walking tours of London, a visit to Warwick Castle, seeing Shakespeare’s birthplace and exploring Edinburgh.

The excursion, with a price tag of almost $2,150 per student, goes beyond the usual definition of a school field trip. The group will spend 10 days in England and Scotland during the district’s April vacation.

Superintendent of Schools Robert K. Wolfe said the trip, which the Board of Education approved Thursday, is the first overseas travel the district has planned since Sept. 11, 2001.

While some school systems have long held annual European trips, many of them drastically cut down on the practice after the terrorist attacks.

East Haven’s Board of Education recently decided to stop sanctioning overseas trips for liability reasons, Assistant Superintendent Arthur Martorella said. The board was worried about the liability for the school district if any students were hurt on a trip.

“A trip was proposed, it was a trip to Italy, and it was during the April vacation week, and one of the board members said, ‘If we sanction this, does that mean we’re responsible?'” Martorella said. “The answer is yes.”

Since the change of policy, Martorella said, students and teachers have continued to organize overseas trips, but they no longer receive approval from the school board. The proposed trip to Italy went off as planned, but “it just wasn’t board sanctioned.”

Martorella added that the district has seen a decline in the number of multi-day field trips since 9/11. He was formerly the principal of Joseph Melillo Middle School, which canceled its annual eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., as a result of the attacks and has not held one since then.

“I think it’s a condition of the world now,” he said. “I know school systems still sponsor those trips – we don’t do it here though.”

The New Haven Public Schools also cut back on long field trips after 9/11, spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo said. Previously, students and faculty took “pretty regular trips overseas,” she said, but in the past six years the number has dropped.

“I wouldn’t call it a policy – it’s been more of a practice in the last few years,” Sullivan- DeCarlo said. “I think probably most school systems really put the kibosh on it right after 9/11 and then eventually loosened up. I know that’s what happened with us.”

This year, she added, students went to Canada and the Caribbean, but there were no European trips.

Wolfe, the superintendent in North Branford, said the number of field trips declined after Sept. 11, but has been increasing again.

“Prior to 9/11 there were more trips proposed out of the country – there was always sort of a Spanish club and an Italian club trip – and beginning with 9/11 that was sort of decreased considerably,” he said. “It’s sort of slowly coming back.”

This semester, North Bran-ford’s Board of Education has approved eight out-of-state trips for middle-and high-school students, including the one to the United Kingdom. Three of them were one-day trips to New York or Boston. Wolfe said that one-day field trips are often requirements as part of the curriculum.

At Board of Education meetings since September, some board members have raised concerns about the trips over issues such as student supervision, the educational value and the interaction between students and parents who might choose to go on the trip as well. Wolfe said the board approved the United Kingdom trip on the condition that it includes two chaperones for the 10 students, although the district’s usual policy is a ratio of one chaperone for every 10 children.

Earlier this year, the board approved a five-day trip to the Grand Canyon for seventh-and eighth-grade students. Some members initially expressed doubts about the trip and put off making a decision on it for a month.

The trip’s itinerary says that the students will spend one day at the Grand Canyon sightseeing and hiking, a day floating on the Colorado River and a day in Las Vegas, among other activities.

Nate Bowers, the seventh-grade science teacher in charge of the trip, wrote in a request to the board that it “exposes middle school students to the wonders of geology, anthropology and evolution.”

Bowers said the class has been studying topics such as plate tectonics and erosion, which will be on display in the Grand Canyon. Even though the trip includes time for shopping and sightseeing in Las Vegas, Bowers estimated that “easily 80 to 85 percent of the time … will be spent doing educationally valuable things.”

“Nontraditional learning settings are sometimes where some of the best and most complete learning takes place,” he said. “I think back to my education – it was those times that were different from the classroom that seemed to make the most impact on my learning. I think this trip and other trips like it are going to be good ways for that to occur.”

Wolfe said that he and the school board have made an effort to tie field trips into the curriculum more closely. He added that he has some concerns about overseas field trips, but “ultimately the board has to make that decision and then parents have to make the individual decisions regarding their children.”

“All the school rules apply, whether it be no drinking or no smoking, all those school rules apply,” he said. “The students on a trip are really in an external classroom, no different. It’s a classroom without walls.”

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