The following is a description of what it would be like to go on a field trip with 55 young people aged eleven and twelve. I had the pleasure of chaperoning my son’s grade 6 field trip from Montreal, Quebec to Canada’s capital, Ottawa. There were four of us in charge: two grade 6 teachers, Mr. Turner and Mr. Lepage, and two “ mother “chaperones, myself and Mrs. Burnatowski. It was a trip I will never forget. I hope the following entries give you the reader some idea of what field trips with school age children are all about!
Thursday, June 1st.
I arrive at the school gym ready to embark on this incredible journey with 55 eleven- and twelve-year-olds. I think to myself, “Woman, you must be mad!”
After a head count the bus departs for Ottawa. Our bus driver, J C, is not to be confused with the other JC, but he seems to have a lot of the other JC’s qualities: patient, shy, humble. I hope he is saying his prayers for us on this trip. A student, Valerie G., forgot her lunch. Oh well, not a problem. The children start unpacking their food. By 7:15 the green garbage bag at the front of the bus is full. Valerie didn’t need to bring a lunch; there was enough to go around for everyone. Not to bring up the JC theme again but you do remember the story of the loaves and fishes? Same thing here but with junk food!
After a pleasant drive from Montreal to Ottawa we arrive at our first destination: the Museum. Mr. Turner and Mr. Lepage go on a search for our tour guide. The children are now awake and full of pep after many sugary treats on the bus. We leave the bus and walk a short distance to a park for photo ops. The museum does not open until 9:30 am. Mr. Turner and Mr. Lepage discover that the tour guide has had car trouble and will be late. My first instinct is to ask JC to keep praying. Instead we go with the flow.
We count heads again and the split the children into four groups, one group for each of us. The children are wild with enthusiasm. We race through the museum.
Head count. We are off to have our lunch in the park. The gulls are swooping. The girls are screaming and everyone is running for cover. Ravi doesn’t make it. He gets bombed by one of those nasty birds but handles the situation with decorum. Mr. Turner goes to help clean him up and offers some words of encouragement.
Our tour guide arrives. She introduces herself as Marie Jose. We are back on the bus again for yet another head count. We arrive at the Mint. We are shown to a room where our guide is going to show us a movie. The seats are squeaking and they move back and forth. JC, keep praying! The children are all quite amused by this. They are moving about — squeak, squeak. We are on a tight schedule, so our chaperone voices kick in: “Be quiet now, children. Children, QUIET!”
We are on the bus again. Head count! We are all here. Dave asks Mrs. Burnatowski for his wallet. “What wallet?” she asks. “I told you to give it to Daniel D. Doesn’t he have your wallet?” “No,” Dave replies. Dave is broke.
We head to Imax, the Journey of Man (how apropos). I am going though caffeine withdrawal! HELP!
We split the groups up again. I have group A. It sounds a bit like a virus. I am feeling more and more like a cattle rancher or a shepherd than a chaperone. Yelling at the children to hurry up, come on now, get a move on, move ’em out, we gotta get going!
We are back on the bus. Head count. We are on our way to the Hard Rock Café. Dave finds his wallet! Phew! Brandon loses his. What’s up with the wallet thing? Brandon finds his wallet! Phew!
Dinner. The chaperones quench their thirst with a huge pitcher of……Coke! There is entertainment, singing and dancing with the waiters and waitresses. Way cool! Someone asks Mr. Turner who the Beatles are. Wow, am I old!
We leave for the cruise. We do another head count. We have a fifteen-minute walk to the boat. We stop on the way to get film for some of the students. This alone is an exercise in patience. Thank you, JC!
We arrive for the boat cruise. There ain’t nothing romantic about this cruise. The children are wild. The cruise director surrenders the boat to the children. Some of them are driving the boat. They are waving and screaming hello to all the passers-by. My eyes are beginning to droop!
We are on the bus again. Head count. We are off to Carleton University. We get lost. Mrs. Burnatowski is whispering sweet nothings in my ear. “She doesn’t know where she is going you know,” referring to our tour guide. I agree: we are lost!
We finally arrive at Carleton. We are all tired. Guess what? The rooms are not ready. Some of the children will not be bunking with their friends. Some rooms are a mess. The children are taking it well. Finally we settle in. One final check at midnight and everyone thought that was it for the night! Wrong! Mr. Turner and Mr. Lepage gave the final warning at 4:00am!
Friday, June 2nd.
We all have breakfast at the University cafeteria. A very good breakfast. We need the energy. The Mad Chaperones have a few more wrinkles and a few bags under their eyes, but other than that we all look pretty good.
We are back on the bus. JC has not had a peaceful night either. Another head count. Off we go to the Museum of Science and Technology. Again we are split into our groups. The children are low-key today, most having had little sleep or none at all. They look almost like they are in a trance. The museum is a big hit.
We are sitting on the bus again. Head count We are now on our way to Parliament. Mr. Lepage tells me Mark asked him if Marie Jose was his wife since they were sitting together now. I wonder if that makes me and Mrs. Burnatowski a couple?
We arrive for our guided tour of the Parliament Buildings. The children actually learn a few things during this visit. The guide is very knowledgeable and has a way of talking to the children. We are there for about 45 minutes and then we all walk to McDonald’s for lunch. There the four Mad Chaperones serve 55 children Big Macs, Crispy Chicken, Chicken McNuggets, drinks, fries and ice cream cones! We are all a little giddy by then!
Mr. Turner counts 56 on the bus? Is there someone not from St. Bernard on the school bus? Marie Jose counts. No, we are 55. Mr. Turner was seeing things. Chaperone fatigue. We are on our way to the Museum of Aviation. Marie Jose is lost again. Mrs. Burnatowski is whispering in my ear again, “She doesn’t know where she is going! Oh, that’s great — now the bus driver is reading the map and driving at the same time! Quick, give me some Valium! Oh, she is taking us way off course!” I want to reassure her that the bus driver is JC after all and I am sure he can perform miracles of some sort! And yes, finally we arrive at the museum and are given a guided tour.
Our last head count. What a whirlwind trip. We are all exhausted and yet each of us has gained some piece of knowledge about ourselves and about each other.
We arrive home! What an adventure. A trip that neither the children nor this Mad Chaperone will ever forget!
Editor’s note: This field trip took place in June 2000.
Photos by Martha Farley. All rights reserved.