Concluding a months-long study of its outdoor education program, Naperville Unit District 203 officials are eliminating the annual overnight field trip fifth-graders have enjoyed for decades.
Despite being considered a rite of passage by many students before heading into middle school, district officials said the growing costs and staff demands associated with an overnight stay at one of several nearby retreats outweighed the experience.
"Ultimately it was the law of diminishing returns that ruled the day," Assistant Superintendent for School Services and Programs Kitty Ryan said Tuesday. "The effort, expense and resources we have to provide to make the trip possible got out of balance in terms of what the students got out of staying overnight."
In recent years, the students have camped or stayed overnight in dorms at nearby programs including Northern Illinois University's Lorado Taft Campus in Oregon, Ill.; the YMCA's Camp Algonquin in Algonquin; and the Outdoor Environmental Education program of George Williams College of Aurora University.
During the two-day stay, they would participate in nature studies, trust-building activities, social and emotional experiences, and risk-taking exercises.
"Being spread out across three to five sites really compromised our ability to oversee the quality of the programming," Ryan said. "So we've now partnered with Camp Manitoqua in Frankfort in a way that really helped our teachers and principals find creative programs and experiences for the kids. We're trading the overnight stay for a late-over experience that we think will be more fun and educational."
She described the late-over as one 12-hour day of activities, capped with dinner and a campfire before students return home for the night and back to camp in the morning for a second day.
Eliminating the overnight portion and busing students to camp both days also is expected to save parents about $40 of the original camp cost of $100.
For the most part, Ryan said she has received positive feedback from parents and students but admitted some, like Kay Austin, remain disappointed.
"I am opposed to the changes. It is an important milestone for the children to sleep away from the parents, and an enriching opportunity for social/emotional growth as well as learning about the outdoors," Austin said Tuesday. "This opportunity helps to increase the students' overall self-confidence and ability to problem-solve in real-life situations, something that I feel is surely lacking with many children."
Camp Manitoqua Program Director Nathan Phillips remains convinced, however, the partnership with the district will be "cool" and include just as much of the self-confidence and problem-solving tools as the other venues the district has worked with.
The educational components, he said, will include day and evening nature hikes, forest study and a course on decomposition. Students also will test themselves in tree climbing and 40-foot-tall climbing wall challenges while also choosing to participate in off-road skateboarding, archery and slingshot paintball.
"We're really tailored to meet the needs of each individual student in terms of fun, adventure, challenge and the educational component," Phillips said. "We're excited for the district's students to come enjoy what we have here."
Ryan said the change will take place during the 2011 school year and that schools will participate in the Camp Manitoqua program between September and November.