The best laid plans Of Mice and… 8th grade Washington Goers

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GREENVILLE – I remember reading the book, “Of Mice and Men,” as a student, but not its alter ego, “Of Mice and…8th grade Washington Goers”. At the time, as I listened to my Language Arts teacher read, I fumbled through the pages and gathered some basic meaning behind the story within. As time has passed and I have begun to see the world through a bigger, broader lens, the story has taken on more depth and relevance than could be comprehended by a child or young adult. Life has its own funny twists and turns in everything that we plan, no matter how in-depth the plan may be. This certainly holds true as I think back over the past several years of the 8th grade Washington, D.C. trip. This year is no exception.

In planning the Washington D.C. trip over the past few years, we have encountered an increasing number of students finding it difficult to afford the Washington D.C. trip. While many families are reluctant to ask for help meeting the cost of the trip or are unaware that assistance may be available, some students choose not to share the information about the trip with their parents, knowing that it would put pressure on them to stretch an already thin budget even further. These students are making the difficult decision to forgo the trip rather than create added stress for their parents. Unfortunately, these factors, coupled with the ever-rising cost of the D.C. trip due to increased gas, hotel, food, and activity prices, have led to fewer and fewer students being able to participate. Just a few years ago, the cost of the trip was $500.00, but it has quickly risen to just under $1,000.00 this year.

As we begin planning for the D.C. trip each year, we estimate the cost of the trip based on the projected number of students participating. This year, we have found that our total number of students participating in the trip is significantly lower than previous years, placing us in a more expensive cost bracket. I have spoken with many students as well as parents about the trip, finding out why they may be hesitant to go on the trip. Many of the students and parents admitted to wanting their child to go but found that the cost was just too prohibitive for them to be able to commit. I heard regular comments of, “I would like him to be able to experience the trip, but we are a single-parent family with four kids. We cannot help, and we do not want to ask others to support us.” Or “I was not aware that she wanted to go, she did not mention it. We are strapped financially and cannot afford to pay this with other bills we currently face.” This was heard repeatedly. I asked parents what kind of support would be needed to make the trip a possibility – a few stated that they would not be able to put money toward the trip at all, while others discussed being able to afford part of the trip but needing support to assist with the total cost. In speaking with students, many really wanted to go but did not want to put their families in a bind.

Many families agreed to commit to the trip with the assurance that assistance would be available, however, the number of participants for the trip is still lower than normal, leaving us in a higher-than-normal price bracket. We are down approximately 16-20 participants from the average number of students participating in the past. The increase in the trip cost and the reduced number of students participating threatens to make the Washington, D.C. trip a thing of the past.

Currently, our focus is on getting as many students as possible to participate in the trip so that they can experience a variety of learning opportunities that are connected to the school’s instruction for the year. For many students, this is one of their first, and in some cases, their only experiences outside of Darke County and Ohio. We have many students hoping to participate in the trip who need financial support. We are also in need of a few full scholarships to provide this opportunity for a student. We have looked at many options to reduce the cost of the trip as much as possible, including contacting the company to see what they could do to help reduce costs. In years past, every participant has received a t-shirt to wear for our group photo in front of the Capitol Building; we have chosen to make it an option for the group not to have the t-shirts made this year so that the cost for them could be eliminated. We will look to see if we can find donors to cover the shirt expense so that it is not lost if this is considered an option. We are also hoping to secure donations for breakfast items, incidentals, and over-the-counter medicines that we normally provide for students. We have looked at organizing a fundraiser to help offset costs, but with the trip fast approaching and spring events in full swing, scheduling has proven difficult. We will continue to look at this possibility over the next week or two.

In past years, we have had community members support families in need of assistance with the trip’s cost. The parents who benefited from this support were thankful that their children could participate. The students who were given the opportunity repeatedly expressed their gratitude throughout the trip, often saying that they would never forget the thoughtfulness of the community members who made this opportunity available to them. In some cases, students displayed tears of joy when talking about the fun they had had and the learning opportunity that they believed was out of reach for them with their peers. These students were looking for hope, not knowing it would be found in the community around them. Community members who have chosen to help students in the past have commented, “I remember the D.C. trip and want students who are struggling to have that opportunity, too. It was a great trip that I will never forget.” I would be lying if I said I was not overcome with emotion as I think of the joy that has been brought to students over the years through the support of our community. People can be so amazing.

There is a great need this year for community assistance to make the Washington D.C. trip a reality for many students. If the D.C. trip made an impact on your life or provided you with fond memories, please consider supporting a student in need. Our K-8 treasurer, Dawn Nicholas, knows the needs of the students this year and will apply your donation appropriately. For those community members who have supported students in the past, I thank you. I would also like to say thank you to the group organizations such as No Varsity (multiple years of assistance), the Eastern Star (recurring donations each year), Greenville Elks, the Masonic Temple, and our Middle School PTA that offer their support to our students. We also have a couple of sponsors in the past that wanted to stay anonymous. This year, we have had a donation from the Shine on Corynna, Inc. Foundation, which supported one of our students in need by covering their cost for the trip this year. We are stronger as a community because of the stability and support that you provide. We also have several teachers and administrators who support the needs of our students annually; it is a joy to see the fruit of this support on the faces of students as they get ready to go on and return from their trip. I thank you in advance for your support of our students this year; you are helping to provide them with a learning experience that will impact them for a lifetime.

Chris Mortensen, GMS Principal 7-8