They’re staying home in Westbrook-Walnut Grove


You know the economic crisis is real when the Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School junior class trip to Washington, DC, is being reconsidered because the class can’t afford it. 

At the November WWG school board meeting, junior class representatives informed board members that they doubted that enough students would commit to the estimated $1,200 cost to make the trip possible. The junior class is just shy of 60 students. Generally, a little better than half the class is required for a trip to be viable.

Over half of WWG’s students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch in 2007. About 16 percent live in poverty. Seventy percent are white and 30 percent are Hmong.

The school board generally permits a class trip to Washington, DC, only. I can imagine school board members’ surprise when class representatives offered Denver or possibly a greater Minnesota trip as an alternative. Typically, the board shoots down proposals for Hawaii.

The WWG school district lies in the southwestern heart of Minnesota. Everything is at least a 30-mile drive with Marshall being the closest small city. Driving “up north” means driving to Willmar and Green Lake in west-central Minnesota. Visiting the Jeffers Petroglyphs and the Kensington Runestone is no substitute for our nation’s capitol.

A class trip is not a core part of a high school education. It’s not the same as English, math, physics or social studies. Abandoning one more educational enrichment activity is, however, symbolic of the decline of Minnesota’s commitment to a public school education.

It’s also hard to escape the conclusion that rural school districts feel financial cutbacks’ sting more sharply than their city counterparts. Demographic shift and geographic isolation make it difficult for rural schools to realize the same economies of scale enjoyed by larger, more populous districts.

The WWG school district doesn’t pay for a junior class trip; the kids and their families do. The school board authorizes the function. Technology certainly brings the world closer to Westbrook and Walnut Grove but I feel sad for the students; there’s no substitute for witnessing the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns.

The real solution flows from growing Minnesota’s economy, creating business and job growth, and properly funding our schools. Moving Minnesota forward requires the best education possible to build the best future possible.