Middlesex Middle School Principal Shelley Somers went before the Board of Education recently in what is typically a fairly routine procedure. Administrators and the board review field trips for the eighth grade and sixth grade that have become traditions. This year, however, the trips were re-evaluated by Somers and a number of changes were made.
The eighth grade does an overnight trip to Boston, the sixth grade takes a trip to Nature’s Classroom. Somers proposed some changes to those trips, and for the eighth graders, decided to turn an overnight in Boston into a two-night stay. Other changes included the elimination of some parts of the trip taken in previous years, while adding stops that are more in tune with the Middlesex curriculum.
Somers personally went on the trip to Boston this past year as a chaperone to see how well the trip went. More than anything, she came away from it feeling the students simply didn’t have enough time to absorb and reflect upon what they saw.
“We had a very packed trip. It was an exhausting trip for our students and chaperones. We went from one activity to another, we tried to fit many things into that one-night experience,” Somers said. Somers also added that for eighth graders, an important part of the experience that the students themselves love is actually just spending time together in their hotel rooms talking about what they saw.
The pace of the trip was the number one problem. “Students really, because of the pace, didn’t have a lot of time to reflect,” Somers said. She also said that when the group visited Salem to see a play, as she looked around the room, she saw that most of the children were asleep after a very hectic day.
Other parts of the trip in the past have included going to see Blue Man Group, which Somers called, “inappropriate.” Somers recalled having seen the show herself years ago, and that the performance the eighth grade saw was not particularly artistic as much as it was suggestive. Blue Man Group has been removed from the itinerary for the future. A cruise that students used to take has also been removed from the itinerary, which Somers said was challenging to manage as students often got out of control.
Both removed trips were expensive.
“In looking at that, I picked the things most relevant and looked to expand it into a more interdisciplinary experience,” Somers said of the revamped plan, which adds visits to places like Museum of Science, Harvard University, and Fenway Park.
Somers also said that, as part of the technology initiative at the middle school level, students are tasked with developing a digital portfolio, and that will become part of the trip as well in the form of taking pictures and collecting data.
The revamped itinerary and the adding of a second night nets out to an increase of $100 per student for the trip, and Somers says assistance is available to any parent who may need help with the cost.
The sixth grade trip to Nature’s Classroom has been replaced. Somers heard feedback from parents, teachers, and students, and found the trip, although extremely science based, “wasn’t very well connected to our curriculum.”
The trip has been replaced with a trip that instead will focus on social and emotional learning. The focus will be on the “need of sixth graders to develop relationships with teachers and fellow students,” Somers said, adding that given the timing, most of the students are truly still fifth graders. Mountain Workshop, a facility that offers outdoor experiences, has been chosen as the location of the sixth grade excursion.
Somers said that the seventh grade has taken a trip to Mountain Workshop, which is located in Danbury, and had a very positive experience. The trip will include outdoor team building experiences, collaboration with fellow students, which Somers said would be “much more beneficial than doing experiments that didn’t tie into curriculum.”
Members of the board welcomed the new itineraries and trips. Christa McNamara said she was “thrilled” that these trips had been reevaluated. Michael Burke said that it was a “very intelligent plan, and responsive to the downsides.” Chairman Tara Ochman added that the changes “seem very, very healthy and well thought out.” The changes to both trips were unanimously approved by the board.