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September 26, 2006

What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor? (and other field trip questions)

We've just returned from a 5th grade field trip and managed the food allergy issues without a problem. We went up to Dana Point, CA and stayed overnight on the Brig Pilgrim. The Pilgrim is a full size replica of the hide brig immortalized by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. in his American seafaring classic novel Two Years Before the Mast. The ship is a national award-winning living history program to over 16,000 students a year. The kids were the crew and were in the hands of the actors playing Captain and a hard-edged First Mate. Having attended many a field trip, this one is head and shoulders above the others.

What was the key to our success in making this a safe trip for our daughter? Communication and education (that usually does the trick).

My wife started early in the process with a quick email note to the teacher just giving him a heads-up that we'd like to speak with him. It went like this...

----- Original Message -----

From: Ann Marie

To: 5th Grade Teacher

Sent: Wednesday

Subject: Pilgrim Ship

Hi. I would like to talk with you more about the Pilgrim ship and the food served. Our daughter reads ingredients and makes choices about the foods that she can and cannot eat; however, they are the foods that are prepackaged, usually snack foods and cookies. Since I don't understand what the food is or how it is prepared on the Pilgrim, I am a bit apprehensive. My husband, David, would be happy to join you as a parent chaperone. This obviously eliminates our uncertainty because he can go into the galley and speak with the chef directly and read ingredients from the food packages. At back to school night, I saw a long list of parents who would like to join you on this field trip, so I understand you'll need to pare down the list.

Would you please let me know a good time to meet for a few minutes to discuss this? I am available both before and after school.

Thank you very much!
Ann Marie


I think he knew Ann Marie to be a level headed, open minded parent from the first couple weeks of school. Keep in mind that she had already had the one on one meeting to discuss our daughters food allergies and how to keep her safe (including a lesson with an expired Epi-Pen and an orange). Her practical, yet concerned tone came through in her email. Notice she didn't use any "life threatening allergy" language or other alarm ringers.

I was choosen as one of the chaperons for the trip, so first problem solved. We then called the administrator of the program and she said that they had removed all nut ingredients from the meals because of other children that had nut allergies over the years. It's always comforting to know we aren't the first ones bringing the concerns. I was able to speak to the "first mate" on the ship as well as the captain and the cook (aka the doctor, beacause he has all the knives!) :-)

I read the ingredients used in preparing the spice cake and the beef stew (basically salt, meat, potatoes and carrots - nothing fancy for the crew). And, as it turned out, the teacher had assigned me as the parent "Safety Officer" for the Galley Crew (the team of kids preparing all the meals).

The thought of a field trip can be so scary for a parent of a child with a severe food allergy. I felt so greatful for both our teacher and the ships crew. I felt they truly understood our concerns and were clearly doing all they could to keep our daughter safe. I attribute the strong teamwork to an open communication starting from Day 1.

Posted by David at September 26, 2006 3:33 PM