NORTH ADAMS -- A long-standing tradition for fourth graders at Greylock Elementary School is changing gears, as school administrators reassess the structure of the annual Stephen A. Boisvert Ecological Campout.
"We've canceled the campout this year, but we will have a day chockfull of activities for the fourth graders," Superintendent James E. Montepare said Friday. "There are a lot of rumors out there about why it's been canceled, but the real reason is that we need to step back, take a breath and revisit the whole situation.
"One of the issues is that in the past, the school had the entire campground to itself. Now it's open to seasonal renters, and we're not privy to who those people all are. Our biggest concern is the safety of the students."
Other complicating factors coming into play are the number of students leaving and returning for outside commitments, such as sports; the lack of a full-time nurse to distribute medications to students; the logistics of setting up 18 tents; and staffing the campout.
The campout, which will celebrate its 40th year this May, has expanded from a single overnight stay at Historic Valley Campground to a four-day and three-night program over the last two decades.
"When it was started by former Principal Steve Boisvert in 1972, he had access to big campers and RVs," Montepare said. "He also took only one class at a time to the campground for a single overnight stay. He also had the cafeteria provide all of the food for the program. While it eventually expanded to a two-day program, it was still manageable."
Then in 1996, former Principal Brian O'Connell, an avid outdoorsman, changed the program, adding two additional nights of camping and brought the preparation of student meals under the auspices of teachers and volunteers at the campout.
"He did all the cooking," Montepare said. "He'd bring up these big grills and cook everything there. He had adequate staffing and volunteers to help. We also used to have a science teacher at Drury, Jude Loftus, who would train and oversee volunteers from the high school. He's since resigned, and that role has fallen to Principal Sandy Cote."
With the inclusion of sixth- and seventh-grade students at the elementary school, there's also a question of whether or not fourth grade is still the appropriate age for the campout.
"When it was created, the school only went up to the fifth grade," he said. "We want to re-evaluate if it's still the right grade. We're not sure."
There's also an annual cost of $3,500, which is funded in part by the Jocelyn E. LeClair Memorial Scholarship Fund, the school's parent-teacher group and a parent-run raffle.
He credited Cote, along with fourth grade teachers Susan Candiloro and Paul Narotski, for all the time and effort invested in the program.
But the school isn't looking to abandon the campout altogether.
"We want to try to keep that spirit as we take a deep breath and reconsider this really wonderful tradition," Montepare said. "We're going to have a full-day of events to celebrate the 40th anniversary. We have an internal meeting coming up to determine what that will look like. I know we want to include the music and art departments. We'll probably have a large bonfire at night and a picnic. We'll also be able to have an emergency medical technician on-site, which will make me more comfortable."