Milton students off to Washington, D.C.
On the web
Follow the Milton High School civics and government class trip to Washington, D.C., all week on Facebook at Discovering Democracy.
MILTON By the time the 37 Milton High School civics students get to Washington, D.C., this morning, they'll have time to hop off a Van Galder charter bus, smack the sleep from their faces and jump into business attire.
No time for a nap—the students just get a quick lunch at the hotel in Silver Spring, Md., before hustling to meet with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the heart of a Supreme Court debate on health care.
And that's just for starters.
The school's Washington, D.C., trip, Discovering Democracy, now in its third year, is five days of immersion into the gears of Washington, D.C.
Like most things D.C., the trip moves at a whiplash pace, with 12-hour days and a different activity every hour.
"They become rock stars of politics," said the seminar's director and creator, Milton High School social studies teacher Val Crofts.
Discovering Democracy allows students to discuss big issues with Wisconsin lawmakers on Capitol Hill. They also get to tour the Capitol and visit the Smithsonian museums and the Library of Congress, among dozens of other activities.
The group also is slated to view the play "1776" at Ford's Theatre. The play captures the spirit of debates at the time of the nation's birth, during Philadelphia's Second Continental Congress.
Discovering Democracy is part of the high school's Advanced Placement Government and Politics seminar.
The course, which satisfies the school's graduation requirement for one civics course, is a yearlong class that includes a research project and formal presentations in May.
Students choose a research project based on a government issue in the fall. The trip is largely to give them a chance to do hands-on research and to see federal government in the flesh.
Crofts has taught the seminar for five years, and this is the third year that the school has hosted a trip to Washington. Janesville Parker and Craig high schools have similar trips as part of their own government seminars.
The idea's simple but vital, Crofts said
"You've got to have some kind of basic knowledge of how government works," Crofts said.
Each student on the trip is assigned to interview at least three officials as part of their research requirements.
Interview subjects include congressmen and their staff, officials from federal agencies, lobbyists, Georgetown University professors and even newspaper reporters from the Washington Post, Crofts said.
The topics are as varied as separation of church and state, drug trafficking and border control, and child labor laws.
For instance, students Alyssa Leitz and Ben Fox are working on a study of the national debt and the federal budget. Crofts said the pair hopes to get some face time with Congressman Paul Ryan and his staff.
Another student, Shane Wehler, is diving into U.S. and North Korea relations.
Student Maxine Arndt is getting analytical, paralleling the First Continental Congress with the current U.S. Congress. That's important work, Crofts said.
"We lose track of how the founding fathers worked to put the country on track and how they worked to compromise," Crofts said. "It's interesting to see how Congress now sometimes becomes polarized."
Along the same lines, student Andrew Collins is cracking an issue that's as well-timed as it is tough to crack—political gridlock.
Crofts said Collins isn't the only one who has his work cut out for him.
"They're all working extremely hard," Crofts said. "The only time they're in their hotel room is to sleep. If you're there, you might as well pack as much in as you can. We tell them once they're out there, you've got to move at a fast pace, it's a little faster than Milton."
The pace won't slow until the students are on their way out of Washington on Sunday afternoon. The last big stop: Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Md., where soldiers fought the first major Civil War battle on Union soil in 1862.
"By then, they're pretty much passed out," Crofts said.