Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Class trip combined lessons in history, personal responsibility

by Andrea Evans, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 11, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

St. Thomas 
More Eighth GradersGraduating eighth graders from St. Thomas More School, Spokane, included Mass at the National Basilica during their visit last spring to Washington, D.C. Father Jose Millan of the Spokane Diocese was in Washington completing studies and celebrated Mass with the group. (IR photo from St. Thomas More School)

Some graduating eighth graders received gifts for completing their middle school years. In Spokane, St. Thomas More’s class of 2003 was given the opportunity to travel to the nation’s capital.

Strictly speaking, the trip was not entirely a gift. Each of the students worked throughout the school year to earn the money needed to participate. That effort also earned the students the trust of their teachers and parents.

Fourteen of the 20 eighth graders, as well as their teacher, principal and several chaperones, left June 16 to spend 10 days in Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

Other graduating classes have traveled as a way to cap the school year. The last group to head for the nation’s capital, however, was in 1989.

Principal Doug Banks was once the eighth grade teacher at St. Thomas More. He took classes to D.C. in 1986 adn 1989.

This year’s trip was chosen, in part, because of Banks’s own background – he grew up in the D.C. area and knows the area well. The city and nearby locales offer almost unlimited educational opportunities, many of them free.

Students prepared for the trip by studying American history as well as planning and fund-raising.

The students held four pancake breakfasts throughout the year after each Sunday Mass at St. Thomas More Parish. They also made and sold crafts at Christmas time, and sold headbands and green hats at the St. Patrick’s Day parade. A notice was posted in the church bulletin that the eighth graders were willing to work for people to earn money for the trip.

All of the planning and earning money for the trip taught the students valuable lessons, Banks said. The rule was that each student had to earn at least half of the $1,050 cost of the trip or they couldn’t go, even if the parents were willing to pay for it.

“A big part of it is raising money and the responsibility that goes along with that,” Banks said. “Earning something, planning for it, setting goals, earning money and accomplishing it – I think those are very valuable skills to learn.”

Teresa Origer, one of the students who went on the trip, said the fundraising process taught her how to save money instead of spending it right away.

Some students who had already earned enough money gave up opportunities to earn more for fellow students who still needed to raise money.

“You could see a lot of camaraderie come out of it,” said Kim Worley, the class’s teacher.

The trip had a rocky start. Mechanical problems delayed their flight into Seattle, where they missed their connecting flight. A 17-hour layover in Seattle’s airport resulted.

Once they finally arrived in Washington, D.C., flash floods the first night forced them to stay in a hotel instead of camping, as they had planned.

But after that, the rest of the trip went much more smoothly. Their plans to stay at different campsites in the area worked out for the rest of the trip. According to Banks, camping gave the students more opportunities to interact, with fewer distractions and more time together.

The group spent three days in Washington, D.C., where they saw the White House, visited the capitol building, numerous historical monuments, three Smithsonian museums, the Holocaust museum, Arlington National Cemetery, the International Spy Museum, and much more.

They visited nearby Mount Vernon, went to the Kings Dominion amusement park near Richmond, Va., and toured Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg.

Worley said she could see her students’ eyes light up when they saw something they had previously read about or discussed in class. “It brings the school books to life,” Worley said. “They actually get to see what they read about.”

Student Jake Lenseigne said seeing things he was already familiar with made him want to learn even more. “It’s hands-on stuff that I think helps you remember stuff longer,” Lenseigne said.

Lenseigne said he especially enjoyed the Holocaust Museum, which opened his eyes to actually see how poorly the Jews were treated, even though he had learned about it in school.

Student Carrie Caton said that although she had learned about the Holocaust in school, visiting the life-like museum was, in a way, frightening, because it seemed so real.

Banks said that although the students may best remember the times they spent together and the experiences such as visiting the amusement park, they likely will recall the history they learned later on in life, such as when discussing specific topics of history with their parents or seeing something about the capitol building on television.

But aside from learning so much about the history of the United States, the students also learned valuable lessons such as living with and dealing with one another, and being independent. In fact, no parents were allowed to go on the trip so the students could have a sense of independence and be their own person, Banks said.

Throughout the whole experience, Lenseigne said the most valuable part of it was spending time with the people he has known all throughout school.

“I learned that you should stick together with your lifelong classmates,” Lenseigne said.

And Caton seemed to feel the same way. “We sort of came closer together on the trip,” she said.

When the trip was over, Worley said there were a lot of tears among the classmates who realized not everyone will be at the same high school next year.

But if they all learned, as Lenseigne did, to “stick together with your lifelong classmates,” their experiences and friendships will endure.

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