The Trip That Almost Wasn't - Stokes Goes Off Without A Hitch Despite Months of Roadblocks
Trip would not have happened without the cooperation of the Central Regional school district, foundation president says
Gerry Morey swore several months ago that the Stokes State Forest trip would happen this year even if it ended up being "five kids in a mini-van."
He got more than that. This year 169 students made the trip, a 43-year-old tradition for the Berkeley Township school district.
And as the day of the June 14 trip loomed, some Berkeley teachers and staff members who had volunteered to go began dropping out.
That meant a last minute scramble for chaperones.
Morey - who took over as president of the non-profit Berkeley Township Environmental Education Program Foundation in February - came to the June 21 Central Regional Board of Education meeting to praise Central administrators and staff who stepped up at the last minute so the trip could go on.
"I want to thank Dr. P (Central Regional Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides) and the whole school board," Morey said. "Without you guys, we would not have had a trip. It was a team effort. I was grateful the kids got to go."
Melisa Whitworth, one of the two district coordinators for the trip, also praised Central Regional.
"Without the help of your administration and staff, there would have been no way students would have been able to attend," she told the board.
"You basically saved the program with the support you gave us," Morey said.
The list of 26 chaperones who made the trip read like a who's who of Berkeley Township - right down to 70-something Lillian Britton - a former Central Regional school bus driver and wife of Samuel Britton, Berkeley's first police chief.
Parlapanides went for the entire trip, as did Principal Douglas Corbett. Berkeley Board of Education member Salvatore Ferlise bucked the district tide and stayed all three days at Stokes in Sussex County.
So did Berkeley Township police Capt. Christian Roth, Sgt. David Britton, Detective Will Cullen, and D.A.R.E. officer Scott Selby.
Two months after the foundation reorganized in February, the group had raised $7,000 for the trip. Fundraisers kicked off in April, when group members finally got the okay from the administration to advertise and hold the events.
They held car washes. They got businesses to donate a portion of their proceeds for the trip. They applied for grants from area businesses. Parents paid $150 for each child that went on the trip. The foundation set up an "Adopt-A-Kid" program and some in town paid for children to go. The senior communities stepped up and donated money.
And after all the hard work, one question remains. Why did some in the Berkeley school district seem hell-bent on doing as little as possible to support the trip?
"That's the question of the ages," Morey said after the meeting.
The Berkeley school board didn't approve the Stokes Trip until March. They passed two resolutions, one setting aside $5,000 to pay for the trip's two coordinators and another authorizing the Foundation to raise money for the trip.
Morey also brought up a June 7 e-mail apparently sent by Central Regional Education Association president Susan Hopson to Parlapanides and some members of the union.
She questioned the wisdom allowing Central Regional teachers to participate in the trip. Board attorney Thomas Gannon said the e-mail should not be read at a public meeting.
"I'd like to hear it," Central board member Michael Graichen said. "I'd like to hear the whole thing."
Morey showed the e-mail to Patch after the meeting.
"I cannot support the decision to have our union members volunteer as chaperones to Stokes," Hopson said in the e-mail.
She said two nurses, a "bus filled with medical supplies" and medical records of students were needed.
The Stokes trip has an "extensive curriculum," too much in the short time left to plan before the trip, Hopson said.
She also said there was too little "down time" planned for the trip, liability issues and student safety concerns.
"If the Berkeley school administrators and teachers are saying that the trip has too many issues and too many things that usually go wrong, who are we to argue with them?" the e-mail states. "There are no good reasons to put our staff and their licenses at risk. If the Berkeley Township Education Association is not supporting it, then neither can we at the Central Regional Education Association."
In the end, it rained a lot during the trip. But you wouldn't know it from the beaming faces of the kids in the pictures.