With teen missing in Aruba, youth leaders reassure area parents

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:50

    NEWTON-Field trips. The school year wouldn't be the same without them. They are woven into the curriculums of schools and other youth organizations throughout the country. Parents accept them, and students have grown to expect them How safe should administrators be when taking your child on an overnight trip? As safe as possible, insists Karen Granelli of Byram, whose daughter Sarah, a Lenape Valley High School student, is scheduled to go to Spain next year with the schools' Spanish club. In the wake of the events in Aruba surrounding the disappearance of high school graduate Natalee Holloway, and missing Boy Scout in Utah, Granelli is very concerned about her daughter's Spain trip. "Oh it is so scary. And yes, as a result of the Aruba tragedy, I have decided to go on the trip as a chaperone. There is no way my daughter is going to a foreign country without me. It's that simple." The superintendent of Lenape Valley High School Paul Palek cautions parents from comparing school trips to that of the Aruba situation. He clarified that contrary to popular belief, the group of seniors that traveled to Aruba were not part of a school sponsored trip. "You can't compare apples to oranges. Now, having said that, a trip such as the Aruba trip is something I would never approve of," said Palek. "Our overnight trips have strict procedures that we follow. The itinerary is of the utmost importance, eliminating as much down time as possible for the students. The location of the trip and the age of the students dictate the type of provisions we implement." According to Palek, during school-sponsored trips students must remain in a group and are never permitted to adventure alone. Frequent and mandatory check-ins and head counts are conducted throughout the trip and a strict curfew is in place. Although chaperones do not share rooms with students, their rooms are strategically assigned among the students' rooms. Prior to leaving on the trip, meetings are held where the rules of conduct are explained to both parents and students. The consequences for breaking these rules include sending the student home. Cindy Kimons, a Sparta music teacher who recently served as a teacher chaperone for the high school orchestra trip to Disney World, said that sending a child home because of rule infractions is very rare. "The kids and the parents know how serious we are about the rules. In fact, the kids must even adhere to the schools dress code. We really don‘t have the discipline problem, I think because the rules are strictly in place. We don't take any chances. The kids really are so good about following them," said Kimons. In Sparta, all music trips are planned through tour guides. Loni Bach, the orchestra leader sees to it that everything is planned to the minute. For this year's trip, Bach delivered the medical forms from every student to the Disney first aid station and sporadically phoned the station asking if a Sparta student had requested medical assistance. With most teens possessing cell phones, one number is chosen as the contact number in each group, in case chaperones assigned to the groups need to relay messages to their charges. "We tell the students that if something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. And to call their chaperones if they have a concern. The kids do great job keeping in contact with us and being on time for check-ins," said Kimons who explained that chaperones are not permitted to drink alcoholic beverages while on trips. With younger students, safety measures are more stringent and the Sparta Middle School eighth grade annual trip to Washington D.C. is no exception. In addition to the typical safety precautions, the hotel room doors are taped at night to ensure no unauthorized exiting or entering. "I am very impressed with all the safety measures the Sparta schools have in place. The newest safety addition is wrist bands for each student with the tour guide companies emergency 800 number on them, just in case the kids have a problem or get lost," said Ann Baker who chaperoned her son Jordan's trip to the capital. "Aside from chaining them all together, I can't imagine what else could be done to keep the kids safe!" The same level of security is employed by the Newton schools. "My concern and need for security is not only to keep my students from misbehaving or hurting themselves, but security to keep them safe from being bothered by others," stated Vice Principal of Newton High School Jim Tasker, who chaperones the trips his school takes. According to Tasker, most school districts in the area hire security guards for overnight trips. "I not only have them watching the hallways of the hotels but also the balconies. If a kid is caught out on a balcony after dusk, or commits any other violation they are immediately sent home. I'm not having any tragedies on these trips," said Tasker, explaining that he contacts the hotels about his security needs and whenever possible chooses hotels without balconies. "I tell the parents that I will look after your kids as if they were my own," said Tasker, whose most recent trips include Virginia and Toronto, with Paris scheduled for November 2005 and Rome in 2006. According to Tasker, students who have had recent or chronic discipline problems are not permitted to go on these trips and overall behavior has never been a problem with Newton High School. Dawn and Jerry Tedesco, directors of the Sussex County Youth Orchestra are very familiar with the expressions "when in Rome do as the Romans do." The Tedescos, along with chaperones, are scheduled this summer to take their student orchestra on its third European trip. Because the orchestra is comprised of children from grade school through college, their rules must be appropriately set for a wide variety of ages. "Regardless of the local laws regarding alcohol, our drinking age here is 21, and we strictly enforce that on our European trips," commented Jerry Tedesco. All activities and meals are mandatory and attendance is taken at every gathering. No student under 21 is permitted to venture alone. They must be in groups of two or more. And all members up to middle school age students must be accompanied by an adult at all times. Like other groups, curfews are enforced and room checks are conducted on a regular basis. "We are very concerned about safety," said Tedesco. "We've also been very fortunate to have a parent who is a medical professional travel with us, which gives us an additional sense of security when in a foreign country."