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MelissaH Jun 22nd, 2003 02:21 PM

School absences - any tips for convincing reluctant mom and teachers?
My husband and I are planning a trip to England and Wales in November (around Thanksgiving). We planned on taking his daughter from a previous marriage and expose her to the wonders of travel, history, culture, etc. as she lives in a VERY small town. She only travels outside this town when she visits us or we take her on a vacation. She will be a freshman this coming school year.

Our trip (11 days) has her missing 4 days of school. We have talked to her school counselor who is setting up a meeting the week before school with her new teachers to discuss the trip and how to handle the missed work. However, her mother insists that she will fail her classes and be given a "0" in her classes or will fail the year because she will have too many absences (the school district allows 17 absences a year). Mom seems determined that the teachers won't work with us.

She is a B/C student normally, but does struggle with Math.

Anyone have suggestions on how to handle the teachers if they are reluctant to allow her to make up work? What types of activities have your children done while traveling that helped them learn and get credit? Please share your experiences!

We will spend 3-4 days in London (including a night at the theatre) and then will be based near Warwick for 7 days taking day trips around the countryside.

Please understand that we can not go during normal summer breaks because of our work and because of the cost during peak times. We want to encourage his daughter to explore, make decisions, and dream beyond her normal environment.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated - Thanks!

bob_brown Jun 22nd, 2003 02:47 PM

As a college professor, I can tell you right now that a student can prepare very well when absent, if they know what to do. I have seen them do it countless of times, even as college freshmen, who are remarkably immature. If the girl was sick and missed 4 days of school would there be a similar protest? Heck no.

I will cite the case of an Oriental student in one of my classes who was badly hurt in a car accident. As a result she missed about a month of classes. For about a week she was not able to do much at all.

She kept up through notes from friends, a little private tutoring from me, and diligtnet study. At the end, she did all her assignments, and scored highly on the final exam.

I of course had to cut her some slack on due dates because she was injured, but any decent prof should do that for heaven's sakes.

Tell the young lady's teachers what you have in mind and point out how educational the travel will be. Get daily assignments, and promise that you will keep the young lady up with her studies, although she probably will do it herself if she really wants to go.

If there is a sticky wicket, suggest that she give or write a trip report about what she saw. She can cram a semester of history and geography into that period of time with no trouble.

I remember when my son was an immature 16. We took him to London. I finally reluctantly agreed to let him travel from the hotel to Madam Taussaud's Wax Museum on his own after he convinced me he knew the subway route. Then we let him go without us on a bus tour to Stonehenge, Bath, and Salisbury with others from the hotel.

The whole experience was a real stimulus in his growth. He seemed to mature a year in about 12 days.
It was like I could see him grow.

So push for it and emphasize that many people who know say that travel is tremendous. I traveled as a youngster in high school and benefitted greatly from it.

If nothing else, point out that a good teacher knows when to get out of the way. I have done it lots of times with students who knew where they were going.
I still feel that where some of them were concerned my best move was a side step!

cmt Jun 22nd, 2003 02:53 PM

If the plans aren't yet set in stone, you might instead be able to plan way ahead for a 9-day trip during a week-long school vacation in December or the spring. Then she would not have to miss any school at all. Christmastime in England and Wales might be very appealing, and spring is usually a good time anywhere. Or, with a lot of effort, it might be possible to find good air fares for next summer. On the other hand, if the goal is to expose her to places outside her town, an alternative might be to take her on several short trips in the US when Monday holidays, or Thursday holidays plus the "bridge" give her a 3- or 4-day stretch of free time.

I have no suggestions for persuading reluctant teachers or parent, because I think they may be right. But that does not mean that a trip with your step-daughter may not be possible at some other time, when she will not have to miss school.

Scarlett Jun 22nd, 2003 02:55 PM

My daughter and son went to different schools and it was much easier to take my daughter out of her school when we went away on vacations, which were our sons vacations.
Only once did we have a problem and that was when a teacher asked our daughter why we could not schedule our trips when she was out of school.
That was a case of a teacher who spoke out of line and obviously was just taking out some frustration on a child.
We always asked that any work that would be required for the time she was out be given to her to take with her, any reading she would do and any tests she would make up. We never had a problem and she almost always did better than usual, I guess to make sure we didn't stay home the next time :)
My daughter almost always did a "class trip for one" sort of homework, if it was about the history of the place (London), business (Jamaica/sugar cane & rum):) her Dad did all the taste tests!
One year a slide show for the icky cave with the albino fish in the underwater pools.
I think once you have convinced the mother to go along with things, the teachers will be easy!

The ex-wife, however, may be causing difficulties just to cause difficutlties, as some ex-wives are wont to do at times.

Nutella Jun 22nd, 2003 03:11 PM

I'm not sure that a generic response about the pros and cons of taking kids out of school for holiday applies in this case. With all due respect, your situation seems to be less about that, and more about a conflict in opinion between the custodial and non-custodial parent. Please consider the implications of your plans - only you know how it might affect relationships in the future.
I do think travel is wonderful for a child - however why does she have to go with you? There are exchange programs for high school students that take place during the summer, that might even be a better experience for her!

rex Jun 22nd, 2003 03:13 PM

I am strongly on the side of "they can do fine" working around the problem of school absence for "worthwhile" travel.

But I would not personally support taking a child away without the FULL support of several people who can make a difference in her everyday school life - - for these two reasons:

1. You already said she is doing B/C but "struggling in math".


2. It is her freshman year. Too important a year, to get in a rut from which she not climb out.

Add to this, the matural divisiveness of taking a child who does not live with your husband the other 355 days of the year...

... and I would not do it.

I'd be a grumpy step-dad if I were married to this child's mother as well.

Sorry that this is (presumably) NOT what you wanted to hear.

Best wishes,


Flyboy Jun 22nd, 2003 03:28 PM

Without knowing the people involved, I think Scarlett's suggestion that it may just be some kind of a power struggle or jealousy thing is a very credible possibility. Sadly, it sometimes happens with teachers, too.

We pulled our daughter out of classes for travel for at least several days each year for the exact reason you are citing: the economics at those times made it possible. Now she's in college and doing extremely well. The experiences she's had are a big part of why she will always be someone who is going places (pardon the pun.)

There is no substitute for the personal growth and education that come with travel. Four days of classes being traded for this alternative and totally legitimate learning experience are going to be a huge bargain.

Hang tough! Don't let anyone try to browbeat you into believing that you are doing anything but giving this girl a tremendous learning opportunity that she can benefit from for the rest of her life. Remember, we live in a country where Plato wouldn't be certified to teach philosophy, Einstein might not meet requirements to instruct high school physics, Hemingway would be short pedigogy credits to mark freshman English compositions and God might not be technically be qualified to teach religion. We should ALL know better! If the educational value of this trip isn't obvious to the people who are educating your husband's daughter, then there is a big problem and it is not you. Here's hoping you're dealing with people who "get it" -- you may very well be.

Excuse my rant and good luck with the ex, which is another matter entirely and probably has nothing to do with education. :)

Anonymous Jun 22nd, 2003 03:41 PM

Since this decision has at least SOME component of parental power struggle, why not let the school make the final decision? If they were totally/officially opposed to such a plan (e.g., the automatic failure that mom predicts) then they wouldn't agree to a meeting at all, it would be a waste of time per se.

Please don't try to "handle the teachers", this is insulting and will likely backfire. Work with the ones who seem supportive, and perhaps they can help you sway the others.

sarah77 Jun 22nd, 2003 03:47 PM

four days?? thats it? I have had students miss 3 weeks for travel and still be fine when they get back. I am almost positive you will have no trouble with teachers--we are for the most part a group of individuals who enjoy traveling on our summers off so I am sure you would have no trouble getting their full support. My parents took me all over when I was younger and I would just have to do a presentation on my trip when I returned. Let us know how it all works out. I can not stress enough how lovely it would be if you could take her. It could open up so many doors for her. good luck.
: )

KathrynT Jun 22nd, 2003 03:51 PM

My parents took me out of school when I was 14 for a European trip and it was a tremendous learning experience. I did some special projects when I was there as well as made up the school work. With advance notice to the teachers (and an offer to arrange for extra tutoring, if needed) I can't imagine them refusing. However, I do think the girl's mother has to feel OK with the trip.

allovereurope Jun 22nd, 2003 03:52 PM

While I agree that travel is essential for everyone, I would keep in mind that teachers may be put off by your idea because you are not the first people to try and pull their kids out of class for a vacation, and they may have had terrible reults in the past. So as long as you look at it from their point of view (they don't want it to look like they give all the students such a "break", and they do expect the kids to stay caught up), and are polite and respect their opinions, you'll be fine.

As far as the mother goes, , I suppose you should just agree to whatever the school says as a way of keeping peace. Keep in mind it might be hurtful to her that you are providing something for her daughter that she can't, which is probably why she's acting out. Be extra nice to her, no matter how much it kills you. She'd probably love to be away in Wales with her daughter, and you get to do it.

Joelleinitaly04 Jun 22nd, 2003 03:57 PM

I havent' gone to Europe but I have often taken my kids out of school for vacation. Of course my kids do well in school. Teachers never gave me a hard time. I was planning on taking the kids out of school early for a planned trip to italy next summer, but my daughter is whining about missing the last day of middle school (yes silly I know - but I don't want her whining about that to mar the trip), and more importantly, the cat sitter won't be out of college yet! But I would do it and I would say, what is the kid going to remember 10-20 years from now--what they learned in school or their trip???

But it sounds like there is more involved here than issues about school. My advice would be to go out of your way to be nice to Mom, make any compromises you have to other words, seems like the better relationship you have with Mom, the more likely she is to cooperate.


MelissaH Jun 22nd, 2003 04:27 PM

Thanks everyone for your thoughts on both sides of the fence. It has given us some more thoughts to ponder. As with any situation with "two" families, there is always controversy no matter what. Mom is OK with the trip, but doesn't want it to effect her school. She never traveled as a child nor had this type of situation come up before so part of her complaints are due to the "unknown".

We don't want the trip to effect school either and don't believe that it will and are trying to be proactive with plans, arrangements, etc.

With that, let me ask the teachers (or any parents who've been thru this) out there..... how best to approach the meeting? Is it OK for us to make suggestions about what types of things she could do to broaden her experience or should we leave that to the teacher to suggest? (diary, report, presentation, etc.) What about Math (specifically pre-algebra)? How can we incorporate math into the trip?

Will we offend the teachers if we bring our itinerary and talk about what they will be studying in relation to where we are going?

We want to work with everyone - we know that we are not the first, but it's a first for us and don't want to get started on the wrong foot.

june_ng Jun 22nd, 2003 04:28 PM

"Oriental student"? "Oriental student"!

As an university dean, I can tell you right now that I find that term grossly outdated or even pejorative.

Geesh! This is the 21st Century, you know!

As to the OP: This is solely an issue for the father and mother of the child to work through, not you. Stay out of it is my advice.

nanb Jun 22nd, 2003 04:58 PM

I do know that once a child reaches highschool, the school does take absences more seriously.
That being said, our school secretary always said-
"Don't let school get in the way of an education"

good luck with working this out.

Anonymous Jun 22nd, 2003 05:01 PM

Some teachers are interested in diaries, reports, etc. Others just want reasurance that the student will get her regular assignments done. There's no reason to try to incorporate math into the trip, just see that she gets the assignments and completes them. My kids' friends report that having school assignments that are related to the vacation does take some of the fun out of it.

BTW, my kids once went to a school in which SO many famlies were taking kids out of school for a week or even more, just to go to Disneyland or whatever, that it got so disruptive to the classes and burdensome to the teachers, they finally passed a rule that makeup work was not allowed and kids would fail any assignments that weren't turned in before the trip.

RufusTFirefly Jun 22nd, 2003 05:30 PM

University deans can be such tight-asses.

Oriental student.
Oriental student.
Oriental student.
Oriental student.
Oriental student.
Oriental student.
Oriental student.
Oriental student.

Anyway, if she's having trouble in some classes, like math, she shouldn't miss class unless there is a very, very good plan to keep her up on the lessons. AND a real commitment by the family to carry that plan out, even if it interferes with sightseeing.

BrimhamRocks Jun 22nd, 2003 05:34 PM

Cool quote, nanb

sarah77 Jun 22nd, 2003 05:38 PM

First of all --arranging a meeting with the teachers is an excellent idea. I feel that once you get into the meeting you will be surprised at how supportive they will be. And they will also feel very supported in the sense that you are taking such an interest in your daughter's education-I can't tell you how many parents I wish would come in and see me in order to discuss their child's education. I am sure they will have plenty of ideas for you and they would enjoy hearing your ideas as well-if there is time--remember that teachers are always running around like maniacs around that time of year. You are for sure going about this the right way--I once had a parent tell me 1 day before pulling their child out for weeks that they were leaving. I did not have the time to pull material together--but you are giving plenty of warning. With regards to math--you could always get worksheets that relate to what she will be missing so that she can work away on the plane and not be lost when she returns. Or perhaps she can go in for extra help so she is a bit ahead of the class before she leaves. good luck.

dln Jun 22nd, 2003 05:56 PM

This is such a prickly subject. In the early 70's my parents took my three siblings and me out of school to go to Ireland. I was a freshman, and everyone thought it was the most amazing thing. Fast forward to the 90s. My mother offered to take my then 6th grade daughter to Italy. The only catch was that the trip was scheduled for March, and my daughter would miss six school days. This was the only time my mother could afford to go, so there was nothing to be done about it.

My husband and I agreed that it would be a fantastic opportunity for our daughter. We told her at the start of the year that she would have to work twice as hard at school. We knew we'd be running the risk of it being an unexcused absence, so we figured if our daughter left with an A average, then any zeros wouldn't do so much damage.

Sure enough, when we arranged a meeting with her school principal, the first words out of this woman's mouth were "IT'S AN UNEXCUSED ABSENCE."

Our daughter went on the trip, had the time of her life, and spent the rest of the school year working diligently (only one bad quarter, reflecting those meanspirited zero test scores for the one or two tests she missed).

I am glad we weren't swayed in our conviction that an opportunity to see the wide world at an early age is less important that a few days of school missed.

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