How does our government work? What is our role, as individual citizens, in the U.S. political process? These issues are foremost in our minds these days, as our eyes are on the Republican and Democratic national conventions.
Founded in 1971, the non-partisan national Close Up Program was designed to look at these questions. Students travel to Washington DC to learn about our nation’s history and our government. The mission of Close Up is to inform, inspire and empower young people to exercise the rights and accept the responsibilities of citizens in a democracy. During the week-long experience, students visit national museums, meet local legislators, debate issues with other students from around the country and experience democracy in action. This past June, 17 students from Ottawa Hills High School joined them.
GRPS students and staff began planning for this trip a year ago. Interested students and parents attended an orientation meeting and were asked to complete a short application essay. For most of our students, the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience—for many, their first travel outside of Michigan, first time on an airplane, or their first meeting with lawmakers. Students worked together with Ottawa Hills Assistant Principal, Lorraine Phillips to raise money for the trip. They collected pop cans, sold candy bars at school athletic events and even wrote grants. “Parents were overwhelmed to have their kids participate in something like this,” said Phillips.
After all their hard work, on Sunday June 12, the students boarded their plane along with three chaperones. Joe, one of the participating students, shared after the trip that a highlight for him had been debating issues with students from a school in Texas. He was surprised to learn that they shared many of the same thoughts and concerns.
During the week, students spent a day on Capitol Hill. They met and talked with legislators, including Michigan Representative Justin Amash and distinguished civil rights leader, Representative John Lewis. Students also visited national landmarks, like the Lincoln and Vietnam Memorials, and Arlington National Cemetery. Another high point was riding the subway for the first time!
It was a week of learning that the students will never forget and will certainly help guide their understanding of their rights and responsibilities as U.S. citizens throughout their lives.
SAF provided a transportation grant to support this trip.