NEWINGTON - Eighth-graders in town are seeing our nationâ€™s capitol this spring for the last time, after a decision was made by school administrators to cancel the annual trip after this year.
Martin Kellogg Middle Schoolâ€™s 2019 trip to Washington, D.C. took place earlier this month and John Wallace Middle School students and teachers were there this week. The program has been going on since the late 1970s, when it was established to complement the eighth gradeâ€™s introduction to U.S. history and government. Course curriculum now covers American history up until the Revolutionary War era, rendering an exploration of modern-day D.C. less relevant, according to school administrators.
The announcement in the schoolsâ€™ April 19 newsletter upset many parents and students, who packed Town Hall for a special meeting April 30.
â€śItâ€™s our responsibility as the board to give people a discussion forum,â€ť Board of Education Chairman Josh Shulman said. â€śA lot of people were upset by the decision and needed an opportunity to discuss it face to face.â€ť
Newington parent Melissa Fusco started a petition on Change.org that has collected over 1,200 signatures of people who oppose the tripâ€™s indefinite cancellation.
â€śIt would be a shame for kids to miss out on this amazing experience,â€ť Fusco said in her post opening the petition.
Her son Dillon is a seventh-grader who spoke up at the meeting, sharing his disappointment.
â€śI feel like I was that close to being able to go,â€ť the youngster said.
Days later his mother put up another post.
â€śI know some of you are upset/discouraged about the final outcome not really changing as of yet but try not to be because I am not done fighting this fight and I hope you all arenâ€™t either,â€ť it read. â€śWe all need to come together and make this happen for these kids. They all deserve to go on this trip.â€ť
Others added their opinions, some calling upon the superintendentâ€™s office and Board of Education to overturn the decision. Thatâ€™s not going to happen, according to Shulman.
â€śWe donâ€™t overrule our schools on school-based decisions,â€ť he explained. â€śWhat administration does is up to them.â€ť
Shulman remembers visiting D.C. and Williamsburg, Virginia in eighth grade, along with his classmates.
In fact, seventh- and eighth-grade class trips to D.C. are very common in towns across Connecticut, New England and beyond. However, several factors have led some school districts to do away with the excursion in recent years.
Not every family can afford to send their child on the trip, for example. Traveling with minors poses greater liabilities than in decades past. And U.S. history class curriculum no longer aligns with the typical D.C. itinerary.
Newington school officials say field trips are not going away anytime soon. The district has a membership at the Connecticut Science Center and the Childrenâ€™s Museum. There have even been preliminary discussions about Boston and New York City.
Shulman hopes students continue to raise their voices when they feel impassioned to do so.
â€śIt was really impressive to see the students come out and speak and advocate for themselves,â€ť he said. â€śIf they feel strongly about this issue or any other I hope they continue to advocate for themselves and keep pushing forward.â€ť
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.