Shutdown alters itinerary for junior high students scheduled for Washington trips

  • Article by: KIM MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 16, 2013 - 1:32 PM

Students will go to other sites in Washington, D.C., that aren’t closed.

For years, hundreds of Twin City middle school students have traveled to Washington, D.C., in mid-October. A typical itinerary includes the Smithsonian Institution’s museums, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Archives Building.

But not this year.

The federal government shutdown has closed popular tourist sites, prompting several Twin Cities schools to tweak their itineraries. For example, students will still visit the Lincoln Memorial, but they’ll only be allowed to get as close to Abe as the barricades allow.

“It’s still a full agenda, and I suspect they’re going to have a lot of fun,” said Barbara Brown, director of communications for South Washington County Schools, which has a group of eighth-graders from Lake Middle School in Woodbury visiting D.C. this week.

Most schools that planned trips didn’t cancel them. And most parents who bought travel insurance aren’t opting out, trip advisers say.

Visiting Washington when schools are closed for the statewide teachers conference has become a tradition for many eighth-graders. The trips have been going on for so long that some parents of current students can remembering seeing Washington when they were in middle school.

Metro area school districts with students headed to Washington this week include South Washington County, Eastern Carver County, Prior-Lake Savage and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan.

Planning for the trips starts months in advance, when students are in seventh grade, and anticipation builds throughout the school year.

When the government shutdown began looking like a probability, travel agencies those schools use started making alternative plans.

Trevor Johnson, principal of Dakota Hills Middle School in Eagan, said Brightspark Travel has done a good job of letting parents know how the shutdown will affect the itinerary.

For his school, one of the big changes includes adding stops at the Washington National Cathedral and the Crime Museum to compensate for the loss of closed landmarks.

“It’s definitely an issue for some of them that they won’t be seeing the Smithsonian,” Johnson said.

Amy Bill, a Chaska Middle School East social studies teacher, said she’s disappointed that her students won’t see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both housed at the currently closed National Archives.

But she’s looking forward to visiting the Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership, which focuses on Lincoln’s presidency. And the shutdown gives teachers a great opportunity to talk about how the federal government affects students’ daily lives, she said.

“It’s harder for us, because we’ve been to D.C. in the past and we’ve visited many of these sites,” said Bill, who’s overseeing a trip that leaves Thursday. “But for most of these kids, it’s a brand-new experience. They’re still really excited, and we think they’re going to have a quality experience even with the changes.”

Some parents said their children are disappointed that they won’t be able to visit the Smithsonian, a collection of museums that houses artifacts that include the Hope Diamond, the Star-Spangled Banner (the original flag) and Charles Lindbergh’s plane, the Spirit of St. Louis.

But that’s certainly not enough to ruin the trip, they say.

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