Students at Bellevue's Bennett Elementary protest end to Bainbridge Island field trip
By CONNER BOWMAN
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
June 9, 2010 · Updated 2:56 PM
A group of young protesters and their parents marched in front of Bennett Elementary School early Tuesday, to show their disagreement with the school administration's decision to cancel the annual fifth grade four-day trip to IslandWood, on Bainbridge Island.
According to the adults present, Nicole Hepworth, the new principal this year, has explained several reasons as to why the trip was cancelled, but they said they dispute several of those claims.
"She (Hepworth) said many of the teachers going on the trip did not want to spend that much time away from their own students or families," said Steve Hoglund, a concerned parent, "but when we asked the same teachers, they said they still wanted to come."
Parents said they felt they were not getting the entire truth from the Bennett administration.
Hoglund also stated the trip was almost entirely funded by the parents of those students attending, so claims by Hepworth of a money issue are also invalid.
In an interview after the protest, Hepworth explained her reasoning behind the cancellation of the trip.
"We've looked more and more at how we use each minute with the kids," Hepworth said. "The team of fifth grade teachers decided this just isn't the best use of time and resources."
The new principal added that the four-day trip leaves the school shorthanded of teachers, as well as those teachers committed to activities outside of their work at Bennett.
According to Hepworth the trip this year also has a $15,000 price tag, with 52 students attending, and 81 attending next year, plus staff.
Furthermore, insurance coverage and costs also seem to be a problem for the trip, as Hepworth explained how many more activities are being removed from the school district's insurance coverage, which makes such trips even more expensive, if not impossible with liability issues.
PTSA president, Joe Mehlhoff, who also was present outside with the picketers, expressed his concern for the removal of the program. He also said he disapproves of how the situation was handled by the administration.
"The removal of this program can only adversely affect the children," said Mehlhoff. "We should have been communicated with."
After hearing some of the parents' complaints, and what they valued from the IslandWood trip, Hepworth offered a few alternatives to the four-day trip. Some include a trip to Olympia and participating in a mock trial for a government class, as well as trips to Mercer Slough and the Seattle Aquarium to cover the environmental studies portion of the fifth graders' class.
Conner Bowman is an intern with the Bellevue Reporter. He is a student at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.