COLLEGE PARK – Maryland schools scrambled to reschedule field trips this week after the government shutdown closed the Smithsonian, the National Zoo and other popular federal attractions.
Fifteen German high school exchange students at Bel Air’s The John Carroll School were supposed to tour Capitol Hill and the National Mall on Thursday, but had to settle for peering through locked doors at the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of American History.
“They had a very positive experience, but it was a lot of walking,” said Ashleigh Stall, the high school’s German language teacher who accompanied the students. “They said the area looked very empty.”
Stall said the group also took a detour to the the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial and the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame, both at Arlington National Cemetery, which remained open despite the shutdown.
“It’s a shame and it makes me sad that it’s going on,” Bel Air resident Maria Wright, who is hosting one of the exchange students, said of the shutdown’s effect on the students. “The whole thing is worrisome.”
School groups from Maryland regularly visit popular Washington attractions like the Smithsonian, the National Zoo and the monuments on the Mall every year. A prolonged shutdown could affect more field trips throughout the fall.
“It was definitely a concern from a planning standpoint,” Stall said. “It was obviously disappointing they didn’t get the experience we planned.”
Schools from several counties, including Harford, Kent and Montgomery, have been affected, teachers and school administrators said in interviews.
School groups from Maryland and across the country have called Washington’s tourism office this week to reschedule trips. Kate Gibbs, media relations manager for Destination DC, said the organization has helped groups find alternative, non-federal sites to visit like Mount Vernon in Virginia.
The government shutdown is also affecting field trips to federal facilities outside of Washington.
This week, five elementary schools in Kent County had to find alternatives to their planned trip to Maryland’s Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, which is federally owned land. The group of 160 students visited the county-owned Sassafras Environmental Education Center instead.
Rock Hall Elementary fourth-grade science teacher Ellen Chamberlin said her students lost a half-hour of instruction time because the drive to the opposite end of the county took longer.
In the end, Chamberlin said the alternative trip went smoothly because the staff at the Sassafras Environmental Education Center was so accommodating.
“All of our partners were flexible,” she said of the presenters for the field trip.
Ed Silver, Kent County Public School supervisor of human resources, said the shutdown was on their radar last week. They were fortunate to have good partners in the county to help with the shifts in the schedule, he said.
“I was hoping the federal government would be able to resolve the issue,” he said. “ I was appreciative that we were able to get everything switched.”