Board of Ed discusses middle school field trip changes, proposed new legislation

The two biggest topics discussed at last weeks Board of Education meeting concerned proposed major changes to Middlesex Middle Schools sixth and eighth grade trips and a discussion on future legislative proposals affecting schools.

Middlesex Principal Shelly Somers presented a proposal on changing the sixth and eighth grade trips. Both trips are over night trips where sixth graders travel to Pine Forest Camp and eighth graders travel to Boston.

Somers began by saying that she would like create better plans that would serve academic and social and emotional needs of students and connect a trop to social emotional programs where students can interact with their teams and teachers. She added, “The purposed of a field trip is team building among peers.”

She first discussed the sixth grade trip. Some of the challenges they face include organization, maturity, and self-advocacy. There are 382 students in the sixth grade, 352 attended, 30 did not. The cost of the trip is $386 per child and this past year $4,639 in scholarships were awarded.

Somers then spoke about the social emotional impact of the trip. There is the problem of bunkmate selection and the anxiety surrounding it, as well as separation anxiety.

Somers proposed that they do not go away for an overnight trip but have two team-building days on campus. This plan would still consist of joining a group, collaborative problem solving, listening and observing, and making new friends. Two teams would participate in the activities one the first day while the other two teams would participate on the second day and they would remain on campus and included as a part of orientation week.

Board member Debra Ritchie commented saying, “I think parents would be disappointed losing it.” Somers responded, saying, “We do tend to remember the positive points of a trip. Some of the debacles included the bus being over-booked. Luckily parents wanted to pick up their children. There was also a touch of salmonella going around the last trip.”

Board Chairman Tara Ochman said that for sixth graders, the school is new anyway and that it is not necessary to bring them so another new place.

Shelly Somers then spoke about the eighth grade trip to Boston, which consists of two nights that includes venues tied to the curriculum with the science museum, Fenway, and Harvard to increase interest in the trip.

The purpose of the trip is to include real world learning and connection to content taught in the classroom. But some of the challenges they face include student engagement with the venues and disengagement with their curriculum, social anxiety, discipline, and hotel planning. There is the issue of social positions and planning hotel rooms beforehand. This causes anxiety.

There are 355 students in the eighth grade, 324 went last year, 24 did not. The trip costs $440 and this past year $5,950 in scholarships were awarded.

Somers then spoke about the capstone course at the middle school and proposed connecting the course to a trip to New York City instead. As a pilot project, it is a three year research project that examines change on the school level, state level, and globally, with each year studying the levels in increased difficulty. For the eighth grade global level, Somers thinks having a day trip to New York would be a good replacement for Boston.

Ritchie commented saying, “This is not an official proposal. We aren’t looking at firm proposal.”

Somers said she would return to the board with a detailed proposal.

Legislation

The discussion then moved onto future legislative proposals. Interim Superintendent Dr. Elliot Landon said, “I did not think the board had sufficient information as it was pressured to make this decision on some of the education legislation. My thought for the future, I think it could be handled in a more deliberative way since it’s a education matter.”

Landon went on to say that he believes the superintendent and his staff should review proposed legislation, discuss it with the board, and then the board would choose the chairman to speak for them at the local and state levels.

Ritchie asked, “Will the superintendent go through all current legislation and determine which legislation is appropriate?” Landon answered saying, “If the superintendent feels there’s a piece of legislation that the board should deal with or if the board members should feel that there’s some study of that legislation to see what position would be good for Darien, then yes.”

He added that this doesn’t mean “every piece of legislation that’s coming out of Hartford.”

Board member Christa McNamara said, “Thank you so much and I do think it is a great point for the board and the administration moving in this direction. How is it that what’s happening in Hartford comes to your attention?”

Landon answered saying, “Those issues that are critical to all school districts, not narrowly defined pieces of legislation, are publicized by the Connecticut Association of Public Schools Superintendents. That organization, my organization, has someone who monitors all of the acts coming out of the senate and the house and advises us as to which ones have a potential to impact us.”

Ochman clarified and closed the discussion saying, “I think we have to remember our roles. It’s our legislature’s roles to follow legislation. Our role is to provide education to the students in Darien.”

“There are some times when there are big bills. This season there’s been big bills on education. I think a lot of this, we are not going to deal with every bill. We have four representatives, that’s their job,” she said.