Schools Cancel International Trips

Schools Cancel International Trips

When Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Daniel Domenech decided to cancel field trips to New York, Washington, and overseas, it had a dramatic impact on local high schools.

At 15 high schools, 24 field international field trips were planned, most of them for spring break and a few for this summer.

Langley, Marshall, and McLean High Schools all canceled trips that had been planned for months: four at Langley, two at McLean, and one at Marshall.

But Oakton High School’s orchestra, which plans a trip to Waikiki, Hawaii, April 9-17, could still go, according to Media Specialist Mary Shaw.

Although the international trips could be rescheduled, there’s also a chance that if the war continues into summer, they will have to cancel. That would probably mean cash penalties or even a full loss of money that was put down in advance to plan the trips.

The McLean High School Band began last August to raise money for a trip to China, where the band was invited to perform as part of a cultural exchange over spring break. Students were going to leave April 9 and return on the 19th.

In addition to $65,000 they raised to pay for normal annual costs such as uniforms and competition costs, band students and parents at McLean raised more than $102,000 for the trip, said Dick Vodra, president of the McLean High School Band Parents Association. The total cost was expected to be $250,000.

Each student was responsible for half of the individual cost for each student, or about $1,200, and each of 30 chaperones was to pay for his or her full fare of about $2,400. More than 100 people were planning to go, including McLean Principal Don Weinheimer and his wife.

THE BAND’S TRAVEL contract contains a “war provision” in case the trip is canceled or rescheduled, Vodra said.

“If we don’t go, we will lose money. We will get our tickets, which we can use for whatever else we can trade for from United Airlines.”

At least $35,000 was raised by raffling a BMW SUV worth about $35,000. Band parents and students sold 654 chances on the car. To honor a Chinese tradition that triple numbers are lucky, Vodra said, no more than 888 chances were available for sale at $111 each.

The winner of the Feb. 25 drawing, however, elected to accept cash, rather than the car, Vodra said. “We were very pleased with the response. We ended up raising just about the right amount of money,” he said.

After meeting Sunday with Weinheimer to regroup, the Band Parents decided to try to reschedule the trip for August.

Band Director James Kirchenbauer is “exploring all options” to reschedule the trip, said band parent Mary Ramshaw.

“He said he has a ‘high need’ to include the seniors who have worked so hard for this.”

“These seniors have been through so much this year,” Ramshaw said.

“The sniper canceled the marching season. The snow days eliminated a lot of normal rehearsals.”

Now, war in Iraq threatens the trip to China that Kirchenbauer sees as “a life-altering trip for these kids,” she said.

“This is the same class that as freshmen had their band camp canceled. They have had a bunch of hard knocks and [Kirchenbauer] really wants these seniors to go, but the end of the year is a hard time to reschedule” because of plans for camp, summer vacation and governor’s school, and, of course, beach week.

“Some of us who were realists knew this could happen,” she said.

At Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a field trip for humanities students to visit museums in Washington was canceled, said Guidance Director Nina Pitkin.

TJ students also felt the effects of the war when physical education teacher Barry Potoker was called to active military duty and left last week, she said.

“We’ve had conversations in government classes about what is going on,” she said. “It’s hard.”

The effects are not limited to students, either, Pitkin acknowledged. “None of us is immune,” she said.

On a personal level, Pitkin said, she wrestles with the choice of whether to watch war coverage on television. “I want to turn it on, but then I don’t’ want to turn it on,” she said.

MARSHALL HIGH SCHOOL’S orchestra had to cancel a trip to New York, but 54 choral students from Marshall still plan a trip to Orlando, Fla., next week to compete in “Music Fest Orlando” and also visit Disney World.

They will miss two days of school at the end of this week, said Choral Director Mary Ann East. “We enter a competition on Friday.”

The students did fundraising through the school and paid the rest of the cost on their own. They face a 15-hour bus trip down the east coast.

Rani Hawes, assistant principal at Marshall, said the French classes have canceled the trip to Paris and Nice they had planned for spring break, the week of April 14-18.

In classes such as history or theory of knowledge, required of International Baccalaureate students in their senior year,

the war is being discussed.

Students at Marshall, which has international diversity, “are working together to maintain the civility we have always had at the school,” Hawes said. “I don’t feel the friction that people are asking about,” she said.

“They are communicating with each other, and with the teachers.

We are doing what we can” to ease what TJ’s Pitkin calls “the usual free-floating anxiety [about war] that everybody has.”