Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

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

St. Thomas More eighth graders continue a tradition that teaches more than just history

the Inland Register

(From the June 20, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)

Eighth graders from St. Thomas More School, Spokane, take a break in front of the Governor’s Palace in Colonial Williamsburg, Va. (IR photo courtesy of St. Thomas More School)

For the past 11 years, eighth grade students from St. Thomas More School in Spokane have ventured to Washington D.C. and Virginia for an up-close lesson in United States history, while also creating lasting bonds between classmates.

In 1986 and 1989, St. Thomas More’s principal, Deacon Doug Banks, the then- eighth-grade teacher, began the tradition of taking his students to the Washington D.C. area. Deacon Banks was born and raised in that area and saw a unique opportunity to share his hometown history with inside knowledge of so many free things to see and do, helping his students reflect on many different American historical periods.

The trip costs each student $1,550. The eighth graders are required to earn at least half of their cost for the trip, even if their parents are willing to pay for it.

Students spend the year working very hard at fundraising, starting at the end of their seventh grade year. Whether babysitting, raking leaves, serving pancake breakfasts after Sunday Mass at the St. Thomas More parish, hosting Chinese dinners, or selling coupon books and homemade crafts, the students have spent hours of their time to earn this money.

Besides the gift of hands-on United States history lessons, the planning and fundraising necessary for the trip teach valuable lessons that can’t be repeated in a classroom.

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

Once in Washington, students do not stay in hotels, but camp. Deacon Banks feels it allows the students to interact more. With camping there are no electronic distractions such as television or video games and the students are not allowed to bring cell phones. Students are also there without their parents, as they are not allowed to be chaperones. Students are forced to draw together in a special way as their last week together as a class unit before returning to Spokane to graduate.

“This type of interacting with one another is also one of the most valuable aspects of the trip,” said Deacon Banks. “Students gain a sense of independence and being their own person.”

The students visit and tour many different sites and museums. They experience the White House, a nighttime tour of several historic monuments, the Smithsonian museums, the U.S. Marine Corp Museum, Arlington National Cemetery, the Holocaust Museum, and much more.

They then visit Gettysburg National Military Park; the Kings Dominion amusement park near Richmond, Va.; and tour Williamsburg, Pamplin Civil War Park, and the Norfolk Naval Base.

Deacon Banks uploads pictures to Shutterfly daily. Parents receive e-mails alerting them when new photos have been added so they can see what their children have been doing that day

Deacon Banks said that although the students may best remember the times they spent together and the experiences of visiting the amusement park, they likely will recall this history they learn as they reflect on their experience later on in life while discussing a specific historical topic or seeing the capital building on television.

This eighth-grade trip has been a special tradition at St. Thomas More that all younger students look forward to and alumni fondly remember as an exceptional experience that will stay with them for life.

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