Fort Worth kids get real-life civics lesson as D.C. reels

Posted Monday, Oct. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Dozens of local eighth-graders won’t have to learn about the ongoing government shutdown from the pages of a history book.

About 80 Trinity Valley students are in Washington, D.C. right now, learning about the shutdown — and how it’s affecting them and others — up close, in person, during a week-long trip.

National parks are closed. Access to many federal buildings and monuments is shut off. Doors to Smithsonian museums are closed and locked.

“I think the kids have felt strangely like they are getting a history lesson they wouldn’t get otherwise,” said Michael Kris, head of the Trinity Valley middle school in Fort Worth.

The group of local students arrived at Dulles International Airport on Sunday, wearing gray plaid uniforms and toting suitcases stuffed with essentials for their six-day trip. They met up with their tour guide Tim Krepp, and trip leaders from Grand Classroom, a Charlottesville-based national tour company that coordinated the schedule.

Early in the trip, Krepp and others shuffled and adjusted their schedule.

Instead of heading to Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve near Alexandria, which is part of the National Park Service, they went to Bull Run, a regional park in Centreville, about 20 minutes from the airport. There, they relaxed, threw a football around and picnicked with box lunches of turkey sandwiches and potato chips.

And they did get to visit Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate on the Potomac River, which remains open because of private funding.

By Monday, they had made it to the Arlington National Cemetery. And, in the midst of heavy downpours, the group headed to the U.S. Capitol.

Parents worked together with lawmakers, including U.S. Reps. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, and Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, to get their children into the Capital.

And Monday afternoon, they were sitting in the U.S. House gallery, despite the government shutdown, meeting with Veasey.

“He spoke to us in the gallery and was truly generous with his time,” Kris said. “[He] talked about how he got into politics and encouraged our kids to do the same.”

Today’s schedule, he said, includes meeting Sen. John Cornyn from Texas at the World War II Memorial, a site they were afraid they were going to have to miss.

“This is a history/civic teacher’s dream,” Kris said. “The kids are inspired and realize the importance of this historic event.”

They aren’t going to be able to see everything they’d like, Kris said, such as the Holocaust Museum, which generally has a significant impact on the students.

But last week, Kris said, he wasn’t very optimistic about the trip.

By Monday, he said it has turned out better than he could have ever expected.

“It has not been a futile trip,” he said. “I think this has been one of the best trips we have ever had.”

No compromise

During their trip, the students had a lot to say about the political interference with their trip to the nation’s capital.

“Neither side will compromise,” said Jackson Key, 14, a self-proclaimed history buff. “[President] Washington warned about this in his farewell address.”

Jackson wasn’t the only student to reference history. Flavia Lima, 13, said her classmates have been studying compromises made during the Antebellum and Civil War periods.

“I feel like we could learn from that. They’re not compromising,” Flavia said, referring to Congress. “Every proposition that’s being made is being torn down.”

Joey Cascino, 13, said that his fellow students watched the news last week with apprehension. With the car chase near the U.S. Capitol, the government shutdown and an impending tropical storm, it was a lot to handle. Some spoke of postponing the trip.

“But I thought about it, and we couldn’t be here in a better time,” he said. “We’re in history. We’re on the front lines.”

He’s still upset, though. He won’t get to see the Holocaust Museum, which he heard is a type of experience that “changes your life.”

This report includes material from The Washington Post.

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