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Field trips, not tests, mark end of school year

I knew something was up when my son, a fifth-grader at Chocachatti Elementary, complained bitterly about missing school.

See, I forgot this year's release date had been pushed back and foolishly scheduled a family vacation for early June.

Realizing my mistake, my wife and I fretted about the exams and project due dates our sons might miss during the last week of school.

Talk about foolish.

Because the school year at Chocachatti started winding down a couple of weeks ago, at least for fifth-graders, whose social calendars are crammed with school-sponsored events.

Though Chocachatti easily led all Hernando elementary schools with 33 field trips this spring, several parents and school officials told me the year-end academic slide happens to some degree all over the county.

"I think it's rampant,'' said School Board member Sandy Nicholson, a longtime critic of elaborate field trips.

Such as the one my son's class took May 16 to DisneyQuest, which turned out to be a windowless, five-story building offering virtual rides, or, to be less charitable, video games.

Decade-old video games, mostly. Many students soon grew bored and, along with chaperones, spent a couple of hours wandering through the stores in Downtown Disney.

Dinner at the nearby Planet Hollywood — with artifacts such as Shaquille O'Neal's mammoth sneakers and a sweat-stained shirt Bruce Willis wore in one of his movies — felt like a trip to the Smithsonian by comparison.

I hated it, but at first vowed to keep quiet. I went as a parent, not a journalist. If the kids enjoyed it, I told myself, they were entitled to one day of empty fun at the end of the year; don't be a wet blanket.

Then the trips kept piling up, most of them packed into the last three weeks of school: to a movie theater to see The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, to a high school play, to a bowling alley and a roller rink.

Back at school, plans were in place for a rock concert, movie day, field day, market day, a school picnic, a yearbook signing party and a science fair awards ceremony.

No wonder my son didn't want to miss a minute of it.

"This is the fifth-grade tradition,'' said principal Maria Rybka. "Typically, they have been here from kindergarten to fifth grade, and this is to celebrate six years at Chocachatti.''

Okay. The teachers (the wonderful, patient, underpaid teachers) have pushed students hard most of the year, even after the standardized test season ended in March. Overall, the school's been so good to both of my sons that I get a little misty thinking my youngest is leaving.

But all this celebrating is too much. It reinforces the idea that every child should be rewarded, even ones who didn't work very hard. It extends a summer vacation that is already 10 weeks long. It wastes students' time and taxpayers' money.

Especially because a lot of these special events are really not all that special.

When I asked my son his favorite part about the trip to DisneyQuest, he mentioned a game that involved shooting baskets, something he does all the time in the driveway.

Thinking about this — and the four-hour round trip, and the fee charged to parents, and the money squandered on useless souvenirs — brought to mind another of Nicholson's comments.

"It's crazy,'' she said.

Field trips, not tests, mark end of school year 05/29/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 5, 2008 11:58am]
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