Washougal eighth-graders travel to the East Coast for U.S. history trip

History, up close

Teens from Jemtegaard and Canyon Creek middle schools had the opportunity to retire the flag at Fort McHenry. The location was the inspiration for the writing of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

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Matthew Rotundo poses in the stocks at Colonial Williamsburg.

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The national 9/11 Memorial bears witness to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Here, the North Tower Fountain lists the names of the people killed in the attacks.

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Taylor Billups, Courteney Webb and Matthew Rotundo pose for the camera in New York City.

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Courteney Webb and Taylor Billups pose at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York City. They and other students from Jemtegaard and Canyon Creek middle schools toured the East Coast last month with Jemtegaard history teacher Scott Rainey.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness...charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”This Mark Twain quote is a favorite of Jemtegaard Middle School U.S. history teacher Scott Rainey. It is also his personal credo whenever he does what few of us could imagine doing: Taking a large group of eighth-graders to a staggering number of historically significant sites on the East Coast, all while ensuring they have as much fun as possible.

Rainey has been leading the trip since 2003, when he was encouraged to do so by then Vice-Principal Doug Bright.

“It took me a few years to build up the courage to do it,” he said. “And it was a fantastic trip. I really like seeing the reactions on the kids’ faces when they see all the different famous places. We pretty much do the same thing every year, but the trip never gets old for me when someone else is seeing it for the first time. This is the best teaching I do all year because nothing is better than experiencing it yourself .”

This year 25 students from Canyon Creek and Jemtegaard middle schools traveled to the East Coast, along with Rainey, a teacher from Union High School and three parents.

Although it may seem mind boggling to be responsible for so many 14-year-olds in huge, crowded cities, Rainey said he has never had an issue.

“At night, there are security guards in the halls, and I tell the kids if they open the door to the hotel room, it had better be because someone is seriously ill or on fire, and it better be a big fire,” he joked. “In the past, I’ve taken as many as 50 kids along.”

Although it is not a school-sponsored trip, Rainey said the Washougal School District has always been supportive.

The group travels with a company called Educational Travel Services, who guide the students and chaperones throughout the East Coast tour.

“We are kept on a very rigorous schedule and use a buddy system at all times,” Rainey said. “The way I design my trip, I start very low key and work our way up to New York.”

Rainey said his favorite part of the seven day trip is experiencing it through the eyes of his students.

“There are always a few who have never been outside the Northwest before,” he said. “They are just bowled over by what they see and experience.”

Highlights of the trip included Jamestown Island, Busch Gardens Amusement Park, Williamsburg, Mt. Vernon, a Gettysburg Battlefield Tour, a tour of the Amish countryside and Fort McHenry. In New York, they visited sites such as The national 9/11 Memorial, Wall Street, saw the Broadway play “Spiderman,” and toured Times Square. In Washington D.C., they visited the United States Capitol, Holocaust Memorial Museum, Arlington National Cemetery and took photos outside the White House.

“They always love New York, and Washington D.C. is very impressive, but the thing that seems to have the biggest impact is going to Amish country and having a traditional Amish meal,” Rainey said. “The kids are so touched by the kindness and generosity there.”

A highlight of the trip for Rainey this year was laying a wreath at George Washington’s tomb.

“That was amazing and has never happened to me before,” he said. “They actually opened up the gates to the tomb, and I placed the wreath there.”

Jemtegaard student Azaylea Jay described the trip as “amazing.”

“I made lots of new friends and this trip was an amazing bonding experience.”

Canyon Creek student Brandon Wubben said his favorite part of the trip was everything.

“We made new friends and are still in touch with each other on Facebook,” he said. “The trip was really fun and the trip of a lifetime for me. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I would like to thank all the teachers and parents that went on this trip with all us hyper kids and (for) staying calm.”

His dad, Mark Wubben, accompanied the group.

“I thought the teachers were a wealth of knowledge and did a great job keeping it interesting for everyone who wanted to listen to their history stories at all the places we went to,” he said. “I have a newfound interest in history and plan to do more research to better educate myself.”