From Doug and Sheila George, Destination Imagination Volunteer Team Managers at Bel Air High School:
We are writing as a follow up to our October 29, 2013 editorial regarding the impact of the new HCPS procedures on the Destination Imagination [DI] program in Harford County Public Schools. (Click to review the previous editorial and its associated comments for additional information about Destination Imagination and its dedicated community volunteers.) Through our continued support of the DI program, we are seeing first hand that opportunities for students to participate in clubs and extracurricular activities are being diminished due to the school system’s procedures that prohibit community volunteers from sponsoring student groups in the schools.
At the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, while the Harford County Board of Education was considering revisions to the Board policies regarding clubs and extracurricular activities, the school system’s central office implemented new procedures to manage the DI program. The new procedures were clearly implemented to enforce the proposed revisions to the Board policy, as they contained explicit language from the revisions. The new procedures included, among others, the following changes to the DI program:
– “Official school sponsored Dl team manager/s … must be employed by HCPS”
– “… Meetings of the HCPS Dl team must take place at school only.”
At the Board of Education meeting on October 28, 2013, the Board rejected the proposed revisions to the policies, and the policies were returned to the Policy Review Committee. Unfortunately for the DI program, although the policies were rejected, the new procedures were not retracted.
Communications with Central Office staff to discuss the new procedures and to offer compromises to allow DI to continue in the schools were fruitless. Their responses demonstrated a clear emphasis on the school system’s concern about liability, but what was most concerning, was the lack of emphasis on providing an assortment of educational extracurricular activities that will benefit our students in their future endeavors.
Given the current financial situation and the resources available, it seems unrealistic to attempt to provide the same quality and number of opportunities that have been offered in the past unless an effort is made to reach out to community volunteers; however, according to Central Office staff, there is no acceptable method to certify a community volunteer to sponsor any club or student group unless the group is a sports team. Therefore, many clubs and extracurricular activities will no longer have a place in the school system.
The impact of the new procedures on the DI community has been devastating. The figure below shows the distribution of HCPS sponsored DI teams for the past five years.
– Last year HCPS sponsored 68 total DI teams, total, this year HCPS is only sponsoring 20 teams = 70% Reduction
– Last year 26 HCPS schools sponsored DI teams, this year only 12 schools are sponsoring teams = 54% Reduction
– Last year HCPS sponsored 7 Rising Star Teams (non competitive program for Kindergarten through 2nd grade students), this year 0 = 100% Reduction
– Last year HCPS sponsored 34 Elementary level teams, this year only 5 = 85% Reduction
– Last year HCPS sponsored 27 Middle and High School level teams combined, this year only 15 = 45% Reduction.
Through the efforts of dedicated volunteers and the cooperation of Harford Community College, 15 of the 48 teams that HCPS disbanded were able to register as community teams. However, these community teams will go away once these students graduate or leave the DI program, and with the lack of support from HCPS at the elementary level, there will be no new teams to take their places.
Through our discussions regarding the new procedures we have learned that other student activities have also been impacted due to new procedures that were implemented to prohibit non-HCPS staff from sponsoring student groups, including the Havre de Grace High School service learning group, SMILES, and the Bel Air Middle School xSTEM program. In fact, we were told by Central Office staff that these new procedures apply to all student groups, not just DI.
It is our opinion that if the school system can certify an individual with no teaching or professional experience to be a substitute teacher in a classroom where they have unrestricted access to students, that the school system can also certify community volunteers to supplement the teaching staff in supporting extracurricular activities and clubs. (The majority of volunteers would be willing to pay the cost of becoming certified in order to support the students.) Our students deserve these opportunities and our community is willing to help the school system provide them.