Despite concerns, AHS students trek to New York

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 20, 2003

Preparations for a school trip shouldn't have to include contingency plans in case of a terrorist attack.

But as the buses left the Austin High School lot, parents and friends were reassured to know that those plans were in place, no matter how unlikely they would need to be used.

The Austin High School band and choir left Wednesday afternoon for a five-day trip to New York City. While there, they will perform at an area high school as well as a church. A workshop with Montclair State University directors and sight-seeing is also on the agenda.

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"It's a great experience for kids living in Austin to see big cities," parent and chaperone David Simonson said. "New York is a fabulous town."

Senior choir member Andrew Garrison agreed.

"Going to see John Lennon's place is going to be pretty cool," he said.

But some of the sights will have to be seen from afar. Many monuments and attractions have stepped up security as a precaution against possible retaliation for the conflict with Iraq.

"I really wanted to climb the Statue of Liberty," said junior Alison Hackensmith, who plays flute in the band. "But it sounds like that's closed."

The amount of preparation was also stepped up for organizers and chaperones of the trip. A last-minute meeting was held Tuesday night at the high school to address parent concerns about the safety of their children while staying in a city that has proven to be a terrorist target. Principal Joe Brown said there were two main points that came out of the meeting.

"Obviously there's concern. Everyone wanted to make sure we had a plan in place in case anything happened domestically in the next few days," Brown said. "But also, you've got to keep living. You can't just stop because of what's going on in the world."

Band director Tim Davis said that the general feeling was to not let fears stop the trip.

"The consensus seemed to be that caution has been taken, and we'd still like to see the kids go," he said. Some extra money to cover expenses in case of emergency will be on hand, but communication is the real plan. The organizers of the trip will be in constant contact through cell phones with administrators back in Austin.

"We're going to try to keep in contact every couple of hours," Brown said. "If there was a major terrorist attack, that's when we'd get together via phone and decide whether to maintain the current schedule or go home."

Brown also encouraged the students to bring cell phones, but cautioned parents that if an incident did occur, they should not rely only on information from their children.

"If something happens, even regionally, it's OK to talk with your child, but get something official," Brown said. "We don't want to shut off communication, but we want people to wait for the official news."

Hackensmith's mother, Julie, will not have to rely on a phone. She's going along as a chaperone.

"She feels safer just because if anything did happen, we'd be together," Alison Hackensmith said. "But she's not really worried. She's just as excited as I am."

Matt Merritt can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at