Every summer, a group of incoming seniors from Wayne High School get a chance to visit our nation’s capital and get a “close up” look at what goes on in Washington, and this year’s group of 11 members of the Class of 2018 enjoyed their eight-day trip to the east coast.
The group – which included Nate Burrows, Sean Hochstein, Jaci Torres, Ky Kenny, Maddy Stenka, Kylie Hammer, Jamie Gamble, Beau Bowers, Ryan Jaixen, Mason Lee and Brennen O’Reilly and their sponsor, Wayne High government teacher Josh Johnson – spent most of their time walking the halls of Congress and seeing some of the historical sites in the nation’s capital, then spent a few days enjoying New York City before returning home from a tiring, but educational, eight-day journey.
“The first couple of days are pretty hardcore with learning about Congress and some of the educational things that take place, but we also get to see some historical sites like the Archives and the Holocaust Museum,” Johnson said. “Normally, we’d get to see our government at work, but none of our Congressmen were there to talk with us because they were on an off week and were back home, so we didn’t get to see any Senate hearings or anything.”
Johnson said that he and fellow teacher Brendan Dorcey will meet with about two dozen students at the start of the year who express an interest in participating in the Close-Up trip. That group usually is cut in half, and money is raised during the year to take care of the $2,500 per-student cost that includes airfare, hotels, busing and most of the meals.
“Close-Up has it all put all together,” Johnson said. “All we have to do is tell them who wants to go and then start making payments and go from there.”
Stenka and Torres both enjoyed the opportunity to visit the nation’s capital and the biggest city in America.
“I’ve wanted to experience more places outside of Wayne, and this looked like a lot of fun,” Torres said.
“My brother and I have been to D.C. before, but I wanted to go back and also visit New York City,” Stenka added.
The two girls roomed with a girl from the Virgin Islands, and both discovered that the experiences they have as teenagers in the Midwest aren’t that much different from other parts of the country.
“I thought we’d all be different, but we’re really the same and just live in different places,” Torres said.
“We got to know about people from other parts around the country and what they experience,” Stenka added.
Debating was a part of the week’s activities that Torres found she enjoyed more than she thought she would.
“I’m not really much for debating, but I really liked the debates at the workshops we had,” she said. “ We did debates on gay rights and equal rights, and we had one about if a prisoner was sent to jail for a certain crime should they be executed by lethal injection.”
“They had a mock Congress one night and I talked with Nate Burrows and Kylie Hammer, who were on different sides, and they talked about their strategies and their pros and cons,” Johnson said. “There were a lot of great debates going on.”
The Wayne group hoped to be able to chat with the state’s two Senate representatives, Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer, and area Congressman Adrian Smith, but none were in the office when they stopped in.
“We walked past Rand Paul’s office on the way to see Sen. Sasse, and I was kind of starstruck because I’m a fan of his, so I had to stop in and take some pictures,” Johnson said.
After four days of education and sightseeing in Washington, the group took a bus trip up to New York City and spent the rest of the time visiting tourist sites and taking in a Broadway production of “School Of Rock.”
“We got to have lunch at Union Square, saw Central Park and the Metropolitan Art Museum and Times Square,” Johnson said. “I could see the (New Year’s Eve) ball from my hotel room window, so that was pretty great.”
“It was very breathtaking,” Torres said of the week-long experience. “It’s a memory that will be with me forever.”
“I loved the trip,” Stenka added. “It was a really good experience and I’d definitely go back. It was amazing.”
By the end of the week, though, Johnson said the kids were anxious to get home.
“It’s funny, because every time we go the kids will say how they can’t wait to get out of this one-horse town, but after a week in Washington and New York City, by Sunday they want to get back to that one-horse town,” he said, laughing. “It’s a pretty intense week, and even I’m ready to get home by then as well . . . but it was pretty awesome.”