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Students at Richmond High School are planning for a trip to Washington, D.C. The annual trip promotes civic engagement and teaches students about the American political system.

Washington D.C. trip empowers students

on November 8, 2015

For students at Richmond High School, Washington, D.C., seems farther away than it looks on a map.

A yearly trip to the nation’s capitol is a highlight of the school year for Richmond, a chance for students to join with their peers from all over the country. Organized through an education program called Close-Up, the trip aims to promote civic engagement and teach students about the American political system.

The obstacle for students at Richmond High is the same every year: money. It costs $2,022 for each student to make the trip. Richmond High wants to send 17 students this year, double the number who went in 2014.

As the school’s hallways empty out on a Tuesday afternoon, 10 students linger in a classroom. They have months of planning ahead if they want to see the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument.

Tenth grader Barry Britton starts the meeting by reminding his peers of the program’s value. When he first started attending Richmond High last year, negative stereotypes about the school scared him. The Washington program showed him a different side of the school, he said.

“I really want to go to college and I’m going through a lot to find out what I want to major in when I get to college,” Britton said. “This program is making me see that college is real, because if I get to go to Washington, why can’t I get to college?”

Britton moved to Richmond from Nicaragua two years ago, with his mom and older sister. They came to the United States for the better opportunities an American education can offer.

“They give you that support and that leadership you need,” Britton said of the staff members coordinating the trip.

Esperanza Alvarado, an 11th grader, said getting the funds for the trip is hard work. Students have to knock on doors, ask friends and family. Like her peers at the meeting, Alvarado said she is willing to put in the work so she can take advantage of the opportunity.

She’s hoping to study law after she graduates high school and would relish the opportunity to learn U.S. history in this setting.

“I think it would be really fun to learn,” Alvarado said. “I’m a big person on history.”

Richmond High alumnus Abel Pineda felt the same way about the trip when he participated in 2008, as a 10th grader. That experience convinced him that he wanted to commit the rest of his life to public service. He now works for state assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond).

The Washington trip benefits the entire community, Pineda said.

“It’s creating that next generation of leaders,” he said. “We may not realize it right now, but even a conversation…can change your life.”

Pineda said meeting then-congressman George Miller was his most memorable moment.

“All his walls were filled with pictures and there’s lots of books and he was telling me how much he liked to read,” Pineda said. “I actually still have my photographs from Close-Up and from the congressman’s office in my office to this day.”

True to the trip’s name, students on the trip view the federal government “close up.” They visit legislators and national monuments and engage in debates with other students.

One of the trip’s chaperones, Valerie Estrada, said it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these students. Last year eight students from Richmond High participated, so they’re hoping to send more this year.

“I feel like Richmond is known for all the negative stuff that goes on here, especially Richmond High,” Estrada said. “It’s time to recognize and empower the students that want to make a difference.”

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