By Allysa McMahon
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Dayana Bergman was thrilled to learn her 6-year-old son was going to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore this fall.
She did not, however, expect a phone call stating her son was lost.
The Halethorpe resident received a phone call on Oct. 19 from Baltimore Highlands Elementary School informing her that Ashton Bergman had ventured off.
According to Bergman, no one knows how long Ashton was gone. To some it felt like 10 minutes while to others it felt like a long lapse of time.
“I was very upset,” Bergman said. “I wouldn’t want this to happen to anybody.”
Bergman was upset over the incident but said she felt reassured after talking about the issue with her son’s principal and teacher.
Together, they created the “Field Trip Chaperone Survival Guide,” a one-page pamphlet that has been officially implemented at Highlands.
Under the guidelines, which can be found BCPS’ website, field trip volunteers are required to register online and complete the “BCPS Volunteer Orientation” course.
According to BCPS, the course takes about six minutes to complete and is followed by a short quiz. Volunteers are given a certificate upon completion.
Bergman feels the BCPS course needs some improvements.
For example, the course does not require volunteers to participate hands on in the classroom with students. This worries Bergman, who questions whether some volunteers are fit to chaperone.
In addition, parents are not given the option to choose how many students they want in their group.
“They always broke down groups into four or five students,” Bergman said. “That is a lot for someone, especially for someone who is used to only one kid.”
Bergman, along with her son’s teacher, was scared to learn he wandered away from the group. Her 6-year-old son, Ashton Bergman, reassured them not to worry. In fact, he states he had a great time exploring the Penguins and Artic Foxes by himself.
“Don’t worry everyone, I got to see the whole zoo,” said Ashton Bergman.
Bergman, along with the principal and lead teacher, created a program that will reduce the risk of children getting lost. The program serves as a reminder to chaperones of their responsibilities on field trips. After the chaperones complete the required online training from BCPS, they are given the survival guide pamphlets to reference on the field trip.
The one-page pamphlet offers seven tips to chaperones on how to keep the students safe. For example, the guide suggests that chaperones learn the names of each student in their group and make a mental note of what they look like and what they are wearing. It also tells volunteers that they should count students frequently and to put away their cell phones so they can stay focused on the kids.
“We have a tendency of seeing parents on their phones,” Bergman said. “Some parent’s don’t engage with the kids. They just let them do whatever.”
In addition to the “Field Trip Chaperone Survival Guide,” Bergman has asked the Baltimore County Board of Education if the school could create school colored vests that students can wear in the event they get lost.
The vests would reflect the school’s name and color and would contain a 5-by-7 inch card in the inside pocket with the student’s emergency contact information.
Bergman was willing to donate money to the school for the creation of the vests. However, the principal informed her there are enough funds available in the school budget to cover the costs.
Bergman received an estimate from a local printing company of $900. This estimate will cover the printing and material needed to create the vests. The principal’s goal is to use the funds available in the school budget to create 110 vests that can be shared between grades Pre-Kindergarten and Third.
Bergman said the vests are reusable and a better alternative to having students wearing the same colored T-shirts, like at other schools.
“In our school community, finances are an issue,” Bergman said. “We don’t want a kid showing up to a fieldtrip feeling left out because mom couldn’t get to a laundromat or couldn’t afford to buy one.”
Elizabeth Heller, a home hospital teacher for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, is very interested in the new proposal. She hopes neighboring counties like Anne Arundel will also move in this direction.
Heller said the Highlands PTA should be able to help fund the money needed for the vests. She also suggested that elementary schools team up with the middle and high schools to partner in the program.
“Home Economic classes in middle schools can make the vests,” Heller said. “It is one way to incorporate the schools and have the kids taking responsibility for their sisters or brothers.”
Heller is on board with the vest idea, but said she is concerned with having the students’ emergency contact information kept in the inside pocket. She proposed having just the chaperone hold on to all of the emergency contact cards for security purposes.
“Having the information on them if they were snagged would give the person who stole the child more information then they probably needed,” Heller said. “That would be alarming.”
Heller hopes the Board of Education will provide the funding if needed.
“There is never enough funding in the school system, they are always cutting corners,” she said.
Bergman and the principal of Baltimore Highlands Elementary School are waiting to hear back from the Board of Education on how much they are willing to fund for the vests. They are also waiting to hear back on what they are allowed to print on the vests as well. They do not have an exact date of when they will be completed.
The Board of Education declined to comment until the proposal is fully approved and completed.