Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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May 7, 2014

Mark Maynard: A rite of passage in Ashland: 5/8/14

ASHLAND — I’m still feeling the effects of my trip to our nation’s capital last week with the Ashland school safety patrol group.

It has become a rite of passage in Ashland, with next year being the 49th consecutive year city police leaders have taken patrol members on a trip as a reward for all they did throughout the school year.

For those who may not know, the safety patrol is made up of children you see at the crosswalks, making sure everybody gets across the street safely during high-traffic times before and after school. The children also monitor the halls and often raise and lower the flag. It’s also important they be good examples and good students for the rest of the elementary school to imitate.

The reward — a trip to Washington, D.C. — makes the effort more than worthwhile.

Next year’s trip will include the 10,000th student to have taken the trip to D.C. It has become something that not only parents but grandparents have in common. It has become a generational event. Also, next year will be one of the biggest in a few years since Ashland will be taking fifth- and sixth-grade students in anticipation of 2016 when the sixth grade moves to Verity Middle School.

The organizational leader that makes the trip operate so smoothly is APD Maj. Mark McDowell, who has everything planned out almost down to the second. There’s no one who has more passion or pride in the program, either, unless it would be retired Capt. Earl Borders, who began the annual event in 1966.

McDowell’s attention to detail and some other dedicated police officers and volunteers who make the trip every year give all the feeling they’re in good hands. Trust me, your child was safer on this trip than they are at home today.

I know parents have some anxiety about leaving their children with the group for four days, but it’s an excellent growing experience not only for them, but for the parents. It’s educational, but also a chance for your child to be independent. Children can be far more efficient than you would imagine.

Some would call McDowell “old school” for remaining firm on his stance of not allowing students to take cellphones.

You can call him old school. I’ll call him genius.

Cellphones are a distraction for all of us, but especially for children who may have missed a learning nugget because they were texting “OMG” to somebody.

Our children are locked into these devices much like we as adults happen to be. We have been the bad examples when it comes to cellphone manners.

Late on Saturday I asked our group if it was ready to go home.

One reply was: “Yes, I’m ready. I really miss … my phone.”

Sorry Mom and Dad, you’ve been replaced. Maybe we should all unplug a little more. I say “all,” but it was because of our cellphones and laptops that we as chaperones were able to be the eyes and ears for those anxious parents we left on that rainy Wednesday morning.

It was interesting posting tidbits and photos on Facebook and seeing the reaction not just from parents, but from others who had taken the trip years ago. It’s a terrific memory that almost anyone who has ever made the trip carries with them even today.

My wife and I were two of the “graybeards” on the trip, but we still walked more than 30 miles in four days and enjoyed it as much as anybody. Our bus was full of life, especially energetic chaperones Jenni Howard and Whitney Martin, who entertained the kids with their own English version of “The Voice.”

When you spend four days on a bus with the same people, you tend to form a bond, and we did with our friends from Charles Russell and Oakview. We laughed, shared and enjoyed each other’s company the entire way.

Meanwhile, parents were keeping tabs with me via Facebook all the way home. I tried to give them a city-by-city rundown all the way to Ashland. We came into town about 1:30 in the morning with a police escort and a hero’s welcome at the parking lot of the Ashland Town Center.

Some were holding signs, others had their pets, and siblings were screaming and cheering. It was like we’d won the state championship.

I just hope each family brought a fully charged cellphone.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.

 

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