Fifteen eighth- and ninth-graders from Patton Junior High School travelled to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Close Up Foundation’s middle school and high school programs, which promote conscientious civic participation. Ninth-grade social studies, civics and geography teacher Bryan Phillips, and library media specialist Kelly Funk joined them as chaperones.
The group left for Washington April 13 for a four-day trip. Students had to pay any costs associated with the trip. Once there, they were split into groups. The 10 eighth-graders joined other middle school students and the five ninth-graders joined high school students from different states and countries. Students were deliberately grouped with others from a variety of geographic locations and backgrounds.
As part of the program, students visited landmarks and were assigned groups for workshops led by Close Up facilitators that challenged their political beliefs and understandings. They used the video messaging service Skype to call their peers back at Fort Leavenworth with updates on their adventures.
The first night, representatives from both liberal and conservative parties debated and shared theirs stances on issues from abortion to immigration and health care with the high school students.
“They got a lot out of that by just listening to where each of them really stood because some of them say they’re liberals or conservatives but when they actually hear the stances of these different sides, then it starts to become a little more clear of where they actually are,” Phillips said. “Maybe they agree with some of the social issues of the liberals and some of the other issues of foreign policies of the conservatives and they don’t know that at first. They just think ‘My parents are a conservative, I’m a conservative,’ so they really start to get a sense of where they stand on the issues.”
During the week, both grades visited memorials around Washington including the National World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. Other places included Arlington National Cemetery, Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court, the National Archives and the Library of Congress. Middle school students also visited Philadelphia, where they visited the Liberty Bell, National Constitution Center, the Tomb of the Unknowns and Washington Square.
Between each visit, workshops challenged students to look at past and present situations and how those situations apply to real life.
“With Thomas Jefferson they’ll talk about the Declaration of Independence,” Phillips said. “Why it was written; what this means; what that means; does this still hold the same value today? The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial they’ll start to compare and contrast what did he believe; what did he bring into play compared to Thomas Jefferson; did he have the same ideas as our founding fathers did? Martin Luther King starts to bring in civil disobedience. How did that play a role? Did he go about it in the right way? It really starts to get them to critically think about what they did, why they did it and did the outcome that happened from it — was that actually what they meant to have happen? If it wasn’t or if it was, do you agree or disagree with it?”
Page 2 of 2 - Funk said one of the most powerful moments for her on the trip was the presentation of the wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.
Six months ago, she submitted paperwork that allowed three students to present a wreath on behalf of Patton Junior High School. Interested students submitted essays on why they should be chosen. Two teachers picked the finalists Piper Steven, Alex Watson and Greta Fulleterton based on those essays.
“I think that was the best part of the trip,” Funk said. “It was a really great moment for them because after they were all done they were very emotional about it. They’re military kids and they know it meant something to them.”
For Sophie Beuerlein, 13, an eighth-grader, the Vietnam Memorial stood out as her favorite part of the trip.
“I think it’s something only art could do — that you can put that much somberness and make it beautiful,” Beuerlein said. “I think that’s something only art can do. It’s made to look like a scar from above so it’s very saddening that you think these men gave their lives to serve our country and to protect us, and so they decided to make a memorial of them in one of the most beautiful ways possible.”
During the final sendoff, each group presented what they learned and how they will apply it to their lives.
“There’s lots of issues out there,” Funk said. “People need help. How are you, as you grow in life, going to contribute?”
Plans for next year’s trip have not been finalized yet. A different location is being considered.