Island Tips for Chaperoning a School Trip

The Shelter Island School Board just passed new updated guidelines for school field trips. All the updated criteria seems quite logical and nothing surprising. Many, many moons ago I volunteered to be a chaperone on a school trip, and it was quite a learning experience for me, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts for those who might be contemplating chaperoning a field trip.

It all starts out innocent enough. You’re taking as many kids as your vehicle will hold. The teachers brief the children extensively about appropriate behavior and all the children nod in compliance, everybody has their lunch bag and is holding the hand of their field trip buddy, and it all looks very Norman Rockwell at 8 a.m. ….

I had a van at the time and it held six kids. Mattie, another parent chaperone, rode shotgun. She had experience as a chaperone and I learned a lot from her. As we pulled out of the driveway and I concentrated on staying with our caravan, Mattie addressed the children who were all about 9 to 11—the brat years.

Mattie: “You all heard your teachers. Stay with the group. Nobody wanders off. Nobody wanders off, mouths off or shows off…. get it?”

There was a murmur of acquiescence.

Me: “Kinda rough on them, don’t you think, Mattie?”

Mattie: “I know this is your first time as a chaperone, that’s why I volunteered to go with you. A newbie hasn’t got a chance. Remember, show no fear, we can take them if we have to…”

Just as she finished talking, I heard a very loud pop and my heart stopped. I thought I blew a tire and I started veering over to the shoulder.

All the kids were laughing.

Mattie: “No, stay on the road! The tires are fine. I’ll handle this.”

Turning to the back seats, she said, “Okay, who popped their lunch bag?” Nobody owned up to it, quelle surprise…. “Roger, I know it was you,” she continued. Roger was silent. “Show me your lunch, Roger….you just put your sandwich in your pocket…don’t have a lunch bag, do you Roger? You’re on my list now, son. You have to stay with me this trip, and I’m even going to hold your hand.”

Then a girl screamed, “Paul is writing on my arm!”

Mattie: “Knock if off, Paul! You and Roger are on my list now, and just remember, boys, I got no problem going back to county lock-up…”

Roger: “You broke Kevin Hannigan’s arm last year…that was you, wasn’t it?”

Mattie: “He fell. The floor broke his fall. He was showing off and mouthing off and not looking where he was going… something for you and Pauly to think about before you’re tempted to do anything stupid today….”

Me: “Mattie,” I asked in a low voice, “you didn’t hurt a kid did you?”

Mattie: “Shhhhhh. Of course not, but it gives me street cred with the beastie boys in the back seat.”

A moment later, I felt someone kicking the back of my seat.

“Stop that, whoever’s kicking my seat, stop it! I’m trying to drive…”

Mattie: “Honey, they’re just gettin’ warmed up… Don’t worry, I got a bottle of Xanex.”

Me: “Mattie, we can’t take anything like that while we’re watching kids.”

Mattie: “Of course not. We slip the Xanex into the cokes they get from the concession.”

Me: “Only as a last resort, right?”

Mattie: “Right.” Then I felt my seat being bumped again.

Me: “And we start with whoever it is that is bumping my chair while I’m driving…”

Mattie: “You catch on quick, Flynn.”

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