Sixteen Patton Junior High School students are preparing for what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The eight eighth-graders and eight ninth-graders are going to Washington, D.C., Jan. 17-23, to participate in Close Up Inauguration 2013. Since 1971, more than 725,000 students and teachers nationwide have participated in Close Up Foundation trips to learn how the federal government operates. The nonprofit educational organization's goal is to provide students with the opportunity to experience government in action and then encourage them to participate back home.
Patton students have attended two prior Close Up trips in 2011 and 2012, but this year's trip is extra special because of President Barack Obama's second inauguration Jan. 21.
Chaperoned by math teacher Staci Blount and librarian Kelly Funk, the Patton students will be on the National Mall for Inauguration Day events, which will include Obama's swearing-in and inaugural address, and an inaugural parade. During the week, they'll also get an insider's view of the nation's capital by visiting national monuments, memorials and museums, in addition to the White House and the Capitol.
The ninth-graders will have the opportunity to dress up for a Close Up Inaugural Ball, attended by peers from schools nationwide, while the eighth-graders will see an audience-participation musical called "An American Musical Landscape."
"My dad keeps telling me he's so jealous," said ninth-grader Cassie Alvesteffer, 15, who said she is looking forward to making new friends, as she did on a prior Close Up trip two years ago.
Her father, Keith, said this year's trip will be a particularly good learning experience for Cassie.
"The inauguration is an important milestone for our country, and my daughter will be able to see that piece of history firsthand," he said.
Tristyn Stokes, 15; Ryan Pangracs, 14; and David Boyles, 13, are other students planning to make the trip. All said they are looking forward to visiting monuments and museums, such as the Holocaust Museum and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The trip ties in with what they have been learning in their history, English and social studies classes.
The Close Up students will keep their Patton peers back home informed of their exploits with electronic journaling and photos. They'll also share their experiences once they get back.
"When you have an inauguration, it's very meaningful as far as government and our history," Funk said. "Most of our kids are military, and like any other student, they are very excited to be on this trip."
Blount said that about 2,000 students from across the nation will take the trip. Parents paid about $2,400 to send their children.
The cost is well worth it, said Ryan's mother, Joanna Pangracs, a paraprofessional at Eisenhower Elementary School.
"Just for the education and the experience and just seeing our Capitol and the White House," she said. "Ryan is really excited about going and seeing how everything works."
Page 2 of 2 - Latrina Boyles, David's mother and a fifth-grade teacher at Eisenhower, said that few kids get the opportunity to see an inauguration in person.
"We've lived there before and we visited the area when David was in kindergarten and first grade," she said. "He enjoyed it quite a bit then and has quite a bit of interest in government and history. We talk about it quite a bit — how government and politics and decisions they make impact even him. Now for him to go back and kind of revisit it and learn more and understand it more, he's just very excited to have that opportunity again."