Yesterday I was a chaperone on a fifth-grade field trip. I learned a lot of valuable things from chaperoning this field trip of 20 or so kids, and my findings are as follow.


 

Yesterday I was a chaperone on a fifth-grade field trip. Our destination was Lowell, Mass., and something called the “River as a Classroom” program, where kids learn about the Merrimac River and the value of ending water pollution (or vastly reducing it; we learned that we’ll never really end pollution. Case in point: Jerry Springer re-runs will always be on somewhere, sometime). I learned a lot of valuable things from chaperoning this field trip of 20 or so kids, and my findings are as follows:

Mysteriously, yellow school buses still have windows that are stuck for life, an echo-ey sound when you scream, and they still completely leave the ground when going over bumps; they should have a ride at Disney called simply “Public School Bus.” Upon entering the yellow bus, I had a flashback to the first day of middle school, staring at all those faces as I gripped the tops of seats on the way down the aisle, looking for a seat and a friend. I recall I was wearing new Hush Puppies, purple bell bottoms, and a ceramic parrot necklace that was as about 8 inches long. I was a-rockin’ the look. 

Anyhow, kids still like to look out the back bus windows and attempt to get drivers behind them to interact with them in any way – if you are a truck, you will be asked, with a downward arm motion, to honk your horn (a sound a kid can hear on the highway and think nothing of; but when you’re stuck in the back of a bus, making a truck driver honk his horn is akin to having the power to change the tides). You are termed “sweet” if you comply, and “sour” if you choose to ignore the faces crammed in the windows in front of you, begging you to respond either with a) a thoughtful, energetic mimicry of whatever the kids are doing, b) a wave, or c) at least a smile.

If you respond, the kids will yell and scram as if they have just gotten word that it’s the last day of school and the ice cream truck is parked outside. You will have their undying love until you reach your exit, which you will be VERY grateful for. WARNING: should you fail to please these strange kids on the bus, you will endure the tortures of Hades … these kids will torture you with faces, boos and words you can’t make out, and don’t want to. This is where the chaperone comes in – those words are not to get out of their mouths, and you, unsuspecting driver, are dependant on your chaperone to protect you, in the way that unseen air traffic controllers protect you on your flight. Your faithful chaperone is yelling, “John, sit down now. Sit down. Leave that driver alone … what if that was your father? Oh, look, he is waving at you … now leave him alone. Let’s think about the Merrimac River for a minute … did you throw gum at me? I know your mom’s cell phone number, and I’m going to use it. …” A chaperone is kind of a lame duck; present but with no real power. You are there to keep kids alive, in a straight line, and away from the exhibits (or river, as was my case).

Our field trip included some age-appropriate lab work on pollution, where the insightful park ranger and the University of Massachusetts on-site instructor got the kids’ attention by referencing a form of pollution that goes into rivers eventually … dog poop. That phrase, “dog poop,” had the magical effect of making the girls cringe in squirming delight and the boys absolutely crazily happy. Hey, you could see them thinking, this lab work might be pretty cool after all! The teacher said dog poop! Then, after the indoor lab, we all went and got in a boat to attempt to do some lab work on the river.

Now as a chaperone, I am proud to say that no one fell out of my boat, and I also learned a lot about the Merrimac River’s ph balance. Kids asked me thoughtful questions as I studied our water-tester like, “Have you ever been to Disney?” and “Have you ever had a burp where things actually CAME OUT OF YOUR NOSE?” While I tried to remember how to obtain a mathematical average, the kids stared out at the river and thought about important river-related things, like if there was another snack time before we had to get back on the bus again.

So, in closing: PLEASE don’t pollute, because everything eventually goes into the river. Secondly, if you are behind a school bus, doing one quick honk or wave will save you miles of grief. Think about being a sweet, not a sour. Or change lanes at the first safe opportunity. And lastly, donate money to a chaperone near you. They work harder than you know. Think air traffic control!

Note - To learn more about the “River as a Classroom” program, or the Lowell National Historical Park, please visit www.uml.edu/tsongas. There are programs for every age and interest!

You can connect with Deirdre at www.exhaustedrapunzel.com.