Germany Trip Leads To Mix-Up

BROOKSVILLE – What’s the difference between a school board-sanctioned field trip and students taking a vacation?

One means the school district could be held responsible if something goes wrong – but sometimes, things aren’t what they seem.

Friday, July 4, a group of Hernando County high school students will depart for a trip to Sandhausen, Germany, where they will spend 17 days living with German families and several days going to school alongside German students.

They will be reunited with the 22 students who stayed with their families in January of this year and shadowed them at Hernando County schools.

While the cultural exchange has become an annual tradition for local students, there’s one difference this year: For the first time, students signed paperwork acknowledging that the trip is not a school board-sanctioned trip.

“It doesn’t faze me one way or another, but I would like to see it endorsed by the district,” said Brooksville resident Cindy Wolaver, whose 16-year-old son is going on the trip.

“I’m just concerned that the German students may not feel as comfortable coming (here),” she added. “They’re sending their children halfway around the world to attend our schools and learn about our community. If it’s not endorsed by our schools, they might seek a district that does.”

Wolaver’s daughter, 20, is also going on the trip as a junior chaperone.

But while the students’ trip to Germany passed through the board in 2003, it has since only been assumed to be sanctioned due to a misunderstanding in the proposal’s language.

It has not been officially endorsed by the school board since then.

“I guess it was my fault,” said Central High German teacher Ron Schildbach, who has coordinated the program since 2000. “Since we created it as a (reoccurring) trip, we didn’t realize it had to be approved every year.”

The trip was initially placed on the agenda for the June school board meeting, but was removed because the students will not be missing any school, said director of student services Jim Knight.

The students were then required to sign release forms stating that they are essentially a group of people traveling together, and not involved with the district in any way.

“They’re basically going as private citizens over there,” Wolaver said.

However, Schildbach said he is preparing an agenda item for an upcoming meeting to gain approval for the exchange program to become a reoccurring trip.

Just as the district has put up $2,500 for cultural activities during the German students’ exchange, the German school district has put up an equal amount of funding – if not more – for activities for Hernando County’s students when they visit Germany, Schildbach said.

“They’ve taken us to Austria and the Swiss Alps,” he said, noting that the only expense to local students is their plane ticket.

The students have either raised the money themselves or their parents have paid it.

Finance director Deborah Bruggink confirmed that there was a $2,500 allotment in the 2007-08 budget for cultural activities during the German students’ visit, but is not in the budget for 2008-09.

Reporter Linnea Brown can be reached at 352-544-5289 or [email protected].

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