Silver Chips Online

Takoma Park Middle School students sick at Outdoor Ed

Unknown sicknesses arise during annual trip to Summit Lake

By Sophia Deng, Online Managing Editor
September 24, 2008
Thirty sixth grade Takoma Park Middle School (TPMS) students and adults got sick at the annual Outdoor Education field trip to Summit Lake from Sept. 15 - 17. Twenty-seven students, along with two staff members and one parent chaperone, became ill at the retreat, according to a letter sent home on Sept. 17 by Takoma Park Middle School Principal Renay Johnson.
Thirty TPMS sixth grade students and teachers became sick at the Summit Lake Outdoor Education Center. <i> Photo courtesy of MCPS Outdoor Education web site. </i>
Thirty TPMS sixth grade students and teachers became sick at the Summit Lake Outdoor Education Center. Photo courtesy of MCPS Outdoor Education web site.

Every year, sixth grade TPMS students attend a three-day residential program at Summit Lake Outdoor Education Center in Frederick County, Md. Students participate in team-building activities and environmental education exercises. In recent years, there have been no reports of widespread sicknesses at Summit Lake.

The cause of this year's outbreak of disease is unknown. There are two main theories of causation, according to Outdoor and Environmental Education Supervisor Laurie Bricker. Either the food and water at Summit Lake were contaminated, or a student became sick and spread the illness to other participants. "We were running tests on students," Bricker said. Currently, "Frederick County Health Department is doing tests on food and water," she said. The results of the tests are pending.

Although the origin of the sicknesses is unknown, Bricker suspects that infected food was not the cause. "The Health Department has looked for commonalities, but so far they have not found any of the same symptoms," she says. "Nothing about what they ate."

John Sok, brother of Blair junior Danielle Sok and a TPMS sixth grader who endured the Outdoor Ed trip unaffected, is skeptical about Bricker's claim. "I think it was the food," he said. Members of the Takoma Park Middle School administration declined to comment.

At Summit Lake, Sok first noticed onset of the illnesses in the cafeteria. "In the lunch room, one of the students threw up. The staff members were leading them to a special room, and they were treated there," he said. Later, when the sicknesses became more prevalent, students reported dizziness to teachers.

Sick students were seen by the nurse at Outdoor Ed, and "were returned to school with staff members by bus at 11:45 a.m." on Sept. 17, according to Johnson's memo. All other students who were well, like Sok, returned to school at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 17, as normally scheduled.

Only half of the sixth graders went to Summit Lake from Sept. 15 - 17. Although the other half of the sixth grade was scheduled to go to the retreat from Sept. 17 - 19, their trip was postponed. "We wanted to wait for the results of the test to come in before we sent another group," Bricker said. The second Summit Lake trip for TPMS is arranged for a later date. The Summit Lake trip for Silver Spring's A. Mario Loiederman Middle School students, originally scheduled for Sept. 22 - 26, has also been postponed.