Bexley News

State assessments test middle school's longstanding tradition

Seventh-grade students won't head to Tar Hollow next year thanks to new testing

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New state testing dates and requirements set to go into effect next year are forcing Bexley administrators to alter a long-standing tradition at Bexley Middle School.

The district's annual seventh-grade outdoor education trip to Tar Hollow State Park in Laurelville will drastically change as officials set up at a new venue with a shortened stay for the students.

The school has been making the annual trip to Tar Hollow for 61 years.

"It was definitely not something I was looking to change," said Jason Caudill, assistant principal at the middle school.

But he described the new plans as the "best alternative" in light of new testing demands set forth by the state.

Each spring, seventh-graders in Bexley leave the district for an extended field trip of two weeks with teachers as chaperones. The purpose is to make scientific observations, explore Ohio history and build community.

But because of a change by the Ohio Department of Education next year to move to online state testing -- which requires a larger window for the assessments -- Caudill said the district was forced to look at alternative dates, pressing them also to change the trip's location.

"The non-negotiables for us have always been that the program ties to the curriculum, makes the best use of our instructional time and includes all students," he said.

Despite his reluctance to make the changes, he said there are some benefits.

The cost of the trip will be lowered to $40 per student. Due to the reduced length of the trip, fewer substitute teachers will be needed to fill in for the teachers who are chaperoning, and the new trip schedule will allow for an additional week of instructional time in the classroom.

In fact, Caudill said the overall changes will result in a $10,000 savings to the district.

The new site for the program is the Glen Helen Nature Preserve in Yellow Springs.

"We were extremely disappointed that this had to happen," said Dan Jax, a middle school science teacher who was instrumental in helping to make the shift to Glen Helen. "But apparently it is out of our hands. We're trying to be positive, but it's tough. My stomach is still churning."

Glen Helen is a 1,000-acre nature preserve of woods, waterways, prairies and fields laced with 25 miles of trails. It was donated to Antioch College in 1929. Today, the Glen Helen Ecology Institute manages the land and coordinates the educational programs.

Throughout the preserve, visitors can view a wide variety of wildflowers, 400-year-old trees, limestone cliffs with waterfalls and overhangs, and the yellow spring for which the town is named.

Caudill and Jax are trying to make the best out of the situation, saying they are looking forward to working with the new site's directors, hoping to "enhance the students' experience."

Bexley school board President Marlee Snowdon said she is "hopeful this will turn out to be an equally positive experience."

Students will visit Glen Helen April 6-10 of next year.

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