Four time zones and 5,000 miles is a heck of a long way to go for a field trip. But the six peninsula high school students who visited Washington, D.C., last month said the journey was well worthwhile.
They attended a week-long special program called "Democracy in Action: A Congressional Seminar," as part of an Alaska delegation of 15 teens selected by Railbelt schools.
"I'd love to do it all again. It was overwhelming," said Katie Campbell, a 17-year-old junior from Kenai Central High School.
The only complaint they had was that the week was too short for the numerous fascinating activities.
"I think we covered a bit too much," said Soldotna High junior Jack Dean, 16.
The costs were paid by the Cruise Industry Charitable Foundation and The Washington Workshops Foundation, which sponsored the program.
Combined with a group from Florida, the Alaskans stayed at Trinity College and participated in a whirlwind tour of the nation's capitol and the workings of government from Feb. 3 to 9. The itinerary included Arlington National Cemetery, Congress, the White House, Supreme Court, Australian Embassy, Penta-gon, Maryland State House, memorials, museums and a visit to the office of Alaska Rep. Don Young. It ended with a session of model congressional debates among the students.
One of the hot topics they debated was whether the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be opened for oil drilling.
Katie Campbell addresses fellow students.
"We had a full schedule every day," said Joshua Meeks, a 17-year-old senior from Nikiski High School.
The other peninsula participants were Amber Krax-berger from Sky-view High School, Jacqueline Jacob-son from Seward and Stephen Smith from Homer.
The District of Columbia was a new and thrilling experience for the young Alaskans.
"It probably exceeded my expectations," Meeks said. "It was a lot more fun than I thought I would be."
Campbell said the thing that struck her as oddest was that Congress seemed much bigger than she expected and the White House quite small.
Meeks said what surprised him was the passion exhibited in the Congressional debates. Seeing government in action changed his impression of politics and politicians.
"When you see what they actually do, and how hard they fight for the state, it's pretty neat," he said.
"I gained a lot of respect for the people down there. They work so hard," she said.
She even said she might consider a career in government based on the experience.
The most memorable part of the trip for her was a chance to sit on the House floor.
"I'll always remember which seat I sat in," she said.
Dean picked the museums and memorials as his favorites. He especially liked the Newseum and the National Air and Space Museum where he saw the original Wright brother's airplane and the Spirit of Saint Louis.
"I would have liked to spend more time at the Smithsonian and museums, and definitely spend more time at the Vietnam Memorial," he said.
He also said the taste of the urban pace of life showed him Alaska has some advantages, such as friendlier people.
"It made me appreciate living in a small town a little more," he said.
All the students said meeting new people was great fun, and the experience generated a lifetime's worth of memories.
"I think the whole trip was kind of a high point," Dean said.
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