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Ducks Field Trips: Real or Rinky-Dink?

When students go to see the professional hockey team, is it education, or a commercial opportunity?


It was the first field trip of the year for thousands of Orange County students, a trip to the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim to watch the Mighty Ducks scrimmage. And then, of course, there was Jack, a chimpanzee who ice skates.

Most teachers said that while it might have been difficult for students to learn facts while watching a professional hockey team (the field trip included work sheets with geography and trivia questions), the outing gave children an opportunity to bond and learn about good sportsmanship from players in one of the most violent sports around. Players also read Dr. Seuss passages to the children.

Beyond that, the trip was a departure from broader educational trends nationwide, in which many schools are focusing on the basics and reducing field trips, and it raised questions in some educators' minds about what a true "basic" education is.

Teachers who attended the event said that even though it might not have been educational or cultural in the traditional sense, there are valuable intangibles to "fun" field trips.

Many said the trip--by about 13,000 elementary and middle school students from Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties--broadened students' experience and taught lessons about sportsmanship.

Like a Trip to a Museum

Joan Byrne, who teaches first and second grade at Harbor View Elementary School in Corona del Mar, said she was very happy with the event, which she attended with her students.

"This was no different than us going to an art museum or the philharmonic," she said. "It is a chance for [the students] to see something they wouldn't normally see. There wasn't a single 'boo' either. This taught them about good sportsmanship."

But other educators and critics say such outings are a waste of what is supposed to be instructional time, nothing more than advertising for a sports team under a thin veneer of book learning. Mighty Ducks officials offered work sheets by grade level, showing how a hockey game is played, the dimensions of the stadium and what "teamwork" means. Also included were some basic arithmetic and geography lessons.

"Schools need to evaluate what is really educational and keyed to a core curriculum," said Andrew Hagelshaw, executive director of Oakland-based Center for Commercial-Free Public Education. "I feel like this trip was a waste of time. It's about brand loyalty, and targeting kids to get them to watch hockey."

Mighty Ducks officials said the event was fundamentally designed to be a learning experience on all fronts, by activating students' minds with hockey and then throwing in a few geography and math lessons. This summer, team officials sent out invitations to hundreds of schools to attend the event; 118 schools accepted. Team officials wouldn't say how many schools declined.

But even Ducks officials acknowledge that the event straddled a fine line between fun and education. Merit Tully, a spokesman for the Mighty Ducks, said: "It's a win-win situation for us. Basically, as an organization, we want to give back to the community. The kids get to learn something they might not ordinarily learn about. Obviously, [the event] helps our fan base, because a lot of people who don't watch hockey don't understand it."

Trip Was Valuable

Among the principals persuaded to allow their classes to attend was Kjell Taylor of Rio Vista Elementary School in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District. He said the trip was something his students would normally never get to see and thus held value for them.

"We must focus on the core curriculum. But there's more to the world than can be delivered from the classroom," Taylor said. "There needs to be something from outside [students'] ordinary experience.

"I'm sure [the Mighty Ducks are] attempting to build their fan base. OK. But they're also giving back to the community," he said. "I'm not going to send students to everything that comes across my desk. I thought this was valuable."

Other principals disagree, saying that there is too much to be done in the classroom to make time for Mighty Ducks field trips.

Harbour View Elementary in Huntington Beach (a different school from the Corona del Mar campus of the same name) declined the invitation.

"The days are not long enough to teach what we want to teach as it is," said Principal Roni Ellis. "What [students] really, really need to know: the basics."

"No one would argue [that a Mighty Ducks event] wouldn't be fun. We're given these opportunities all the time for students. But what we really have to evaluate is: Is this an 'opportunity' in lieu of educating them? Our job isn't to provide opportunity. If it is an event that is coupled with the core curriculum, then we can justify it. But if I feel like it is a promotional event . . . I think we have other things to worry about, like state standards."

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