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D.C. follies threaten Stonington student trips to Washington

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: The Day

Published October 11. 2013 4:00AM
One school postpones capital visit, another to decide today

Stonington - The federal government shutdown has forced Pine Point School to postpone a student trip to Washington, and has prompted Mystic Middle School to decide today whether to delay its trip next week until spring.

Both schools were to be among many from across the country to descend on the nation's capital in October to tour the monuments and museums, most of which are now closed because of the impasse over the budget and the Affordable Care Act.

Some teachers, though, have turned their students' disappointment into "teachable moments" by having them learn about how government's actions affect people's lives.

That's exactly what's happening at Pine Point, where 29 eighth-graders had researched the sites they planned to visit in the nation's capital and were prepared to make presentations when they arrived.

"Boy, I got some heat when I had to tell them last Friday," English and history teacher Gretchen Federici said of the postponement. "They were really disappointed."

So she and art teacher Maria Iacoi decided to come up with a way for the students to channel their disappointment in order to better understand the issue.

Students researched how the shutdown has affected programs and agencies such as the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program, Head Start and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and wrote letters their congressmen, including U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, as well as his Rhode Island colleagues. They also created artwork to accompany their letters.

"So it wasn't just about their own disappointment but how it has affected other people," Federici said. "I wanted them to take it beyond themselves, and they did."

Earlier this week, the students visited Courtney's Norwich office, where they talked to him in Washington via a webcam. They also left behind their artwork.

"This is very much a case where as educators, we recognized a teachable moment," she said.

Federici said it also shows students that as citizens, they can have an impact.

"It gives them a sense of empowerment," she said.

Federici said the plan is to reschedule the trip for March.

"They are so excited to see these things in person that they have been studying," she said.

Mystic Middle School teacher Lauren McGugan, who is one of the teachers organizing that school's trip, said that 92 eighth-graders along with teacher and parent chaperones are planning to visit Washington Oct. 22-25. The school has been making the trip for more than 25 years.

"We've been keeping our fingers crossed that it ends," she said of the shutdown Thursday morning.

She said if the shutdown is not over by this morning, the school will postpone the trip until March. She said hotels, bus companies and other businesses have been very accommodating about the need to reschedule.

McGugan said students have been taking the news well because the trip is being postponed, not canceled.

"If it was canceled, they would have been devastated," she said.

In October 2001, Mystic Middle School postponed its Washington trip because of post-9/11 fears. The next year, the trip was postponed again to the following March because of the sniper attacks in Washington that had killed seven people in the week before the students were set to leave.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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