KINGMAN - Several Kingman High students will get the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. for an in-depth educational field trip in May.
Close Up, a 40-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, invites students to D.C. not for sightseeing but for hands-on experiences with the people, processes and places that rest at the heart of America's democracy.
Two KHS history teachers, Dave Kopecky and Ken Stalsberg, want to make this group of students the first from any school in the community to utilize the Close Up program.
Stalsberg, who had the chance to take the trip when he was a student, said it's an enriching, informative experience that's nonstop from the moment students step off the plane till the end of the weeklong excursion.
"It's a real look at America's government," Stalsberg said. "It's a field trip with an educational benefit, and it's real important for Kingman kids."
Participants get a chance to, among many other things, talk with members of Congress, meet ambassadors, tour D.C.'s monuments and memorials, debate topics during a mock congress and speak with journalists who cover Capitol Hill. Even with the staple activities, the week students spend in D.C. can be customized to offer a unique experience for each group of students.
Jennifer Fernandes, Close Up's educational outreach representative for Arizona and Southern California, said it's rewarding to bring this opportunity to areas that may not have historically had it.
Though Kingman hasn't traditionally participated in Close Up activities, Fernandes said there's been a ton of Arizona-based participation.
When KHS students go in May, they'll be paired with about 200 students from around the country. All the Arizona schools don't go at once, she said.
Trained program instructors - not tour guides - accompany students during their week of study, which helps turn "the Capitol into a classroom," according to a Close Up brochure.
"The further we are from D.C., the less we know (about how the government works), and the more we fear," Kopecky said. "This is not a fly-by-night type of thing; this is education focused on making students more aware of their civic responsibilities."
In many cases, the Close Up expedition inspires those who attend to go on to work in government, Fernandes said.
In a letter to Stalsberg, Matthew Shuman, who works in the office of Congressman Trent Franks, went on a Close Up trip in high school and said "it still exists as my favorite school trip of all time."
Like any other expedition, the Close Up trip comes with a price tag. And since the students who want to go do not constitute a club, the Kingman Unified School District will not sponsor the trip, as it's not in the business of paying for field trips. The state's dollar-for-dollar tax credit is also off limits. The tax credit prompts many donors to help out with school functions and clubs, as they can basically get what they donate back during tax time up to a limit of $200 for a sole donor and $400 for a couple.
That means it's up to the students who want to go to raise the money.
Fernandes said the week in D.C. is all-inclusive and tuition based. The only thing the $1,300 per student tuition doesn't pay for is airfare.
People may think the price is too expensive, but when they add up everything the students get and do during the trip, they see that the price is reasonable, Fernandes said.
About 20 students plan to go, but Kopecky and Stalsberg want to finalize the list in the coming week because the onus to raise money for the trip is on each and every student committed to going.
"We would love to have it where parents don't have to pay anything," Kopecky said.
But that's going to take a lot of work from the students. The group would need to raise more than $30,000 for that to potentially happen, Kopecky said.
Multiple fundraisers are planned. Some will be divided evenly among the participants while others will go to individuals only. In fact, the group is already nearing the end of its first Tupperware fundraiser.
"It's going to be a busy time." Stalsberg said. "We need commitment from students to raise the money."
Though the kids are going to go at this themselves, any help from the community would be greatly appreciated. For more information about Close Up or to find out how to help, call KHS at (928) 692-6480 and ask for Dave Kopecky or Ken Stalsberg.
Depending on how well this trip goes, Kopecky said it's not out of the realm of possibilities to create some type of civics club in the future in order to get the Close Up trip sponsored by the district.