- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

Schools nationwide are canceling or postponing student field trips to the Washington area and New York since the terrorist attacks, forcing layoffs in organizations that specialize in educational programs, and leaving them wondering if participation will rebound in the spring.
Nearly forgotten in the economic downward spiral that is devastating hotels, restaurants and tour companies are nonprofit foundations like Close Up and Presidential Classroom. These two Virginia-based organizations offer fun educational experiences to student groups from around the country.
"Clearly we are hurting from this; you have people all over worried about travel, in general, specifically to D.C. and New York," said John Milewski, vice president of outreach for the Close Up Foundation, the nation's largest nonprofit, nonpartisan citizenship education organization.
The 30-year-old Close Up Foundation, which develops programs that educate middle and junior high school students in the democratic process, spent about $28 million on its programs last year. Children come to Washington and spend a week learning about local and federal governments from guest speakers like D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, members of the D.C. Council and the U.S. Congress.
Close Up has laid off 40 percent of its staff of 150, but hopes things will pick up by early next year when schools make their final decisions about student field trips.
"Right now we have schools postponing their scheduled fall trips until spring, but we don't know if they will come or not," Mr. Milewski said.
Schools in Alexandria and Arlington have been trying to alleviate the fears of parents and encourage them to let their students return to their normal routines.
"I know that a lot of schools are canceling trips, but it's silly for [Alexandria] to do so, because we are right here," said Rebecca Perry, school superintendent.
"Before the attacks there was an understood open permission policy, but that was stopped," Mrs. Perry said.
The one change they have made, along with Arlington schools, is to make it mandatory for parents to sign permission slips.
Presidential Classroom is a smaller organization with a similar mission. Its programs run in the spring during a 15-week span. Although spared from layoffs, the organization's spring applications are way down, said spokesman Joe Rosica.
In 2000, Presidential Classroom had record participation, taking in more than 5,000 students. The organization was hoping to match those numbers this year, but so far has received only 2,000 applications from individual students.
"We are hoping to do about 80 to 90 percent of last year's intake, but that is optimistic," Mr. Rosica said.
A featured adaptation of a Presidential Classroom program on NBC's hit series "The West Wing" boosted interest in that program, but not enough to offset the backslide following the attacks.
"The only good thing, and we are counting on it, is the rising patriotism this fostered in young people, and maybe it will expand their interest in politics in the future," Mr. Rosica said.
In New York, despite Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani encouraging people to come and enjoy what the city has to offer, many popular attractions that offer students entertaining learning programs are feeling the pinch.
The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts usually gets 7,000 or more students for its "Meet the Artist" program, where children see the rehearsals, talk to the artists about preparing for shows, then watch a performance.
"I am now serving only 3,000 this fall. Yesterday we had the Flying Karamazov Brothers," said Michael Wiertz, who runs the program.
"A beautiful program, unfortunately parents are too scared to send their children to see it. We are all struggling."
Following the FBI's latest terrorist alert, Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III urged his constituents not to cancel trips. He was responding to a caller to his weekly show, "Ask the Governor" on WTOP-AM (1500 Radio), who was nervous about her son taking a school field trip to the District and asked if she should pull him out of it.
"What are the odds that your child is going to be subjected to a terrorist attack? Virtually none Americans are going to have to realize that they're living in a different situation and have to go on with their lives," Mr. Gilmore said.
Mr. Gilmore heads a congressionally appointed panel, now in its third year, of assessing the risk to the United States from terrorists.


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