2011-11-10 / News

5K planned to help raise funds for annual D.C. trip

BY MARGO SULLIVAN

This year’s eighth-grade class trip to Washington, D.C. promises to be better than ever due to a new connection with instructors based in the nation’s capital, according to Lawn Avenue School Principal Kathy Almanzor.

The D.C. educators belong to Project Close Up, a nonprofit group that for 40 years has provided civics education to high school students and more recently has offered workshops and tours adapted to middle school youngsters, she said.

The Jamestown children will spend four days and three nights in Washington next May, but preparations have already begun.

On Nov. 19, the Walking to Washington 5K kicks off at 10 a.m. from Lawn Avenue School, parent Dara Chadwick said. The children do not pay a registration fee to participate but have been charged with a goal to enlist 10 sponsors at $10 each.

Jamestown parent Susan Baccari

Varrecchione, who is organizing the tour and fundraising efforts, said she hopes the community will show up for the walk and contribute so each youngster can raise $100 for the trip. To make the walk a fun event, she’s urging eighthgraders to invite brothers and sisters and even bring the family dog to the 5K, too.

Baccari-Varrecchione said the Project Close Up trip will cost $1,079 per student. That is roughly twice as much as parents paid last year to send the children to Washington, D.C. with Capital Tours, she said. But the Capitol Tours trip primarily involved self-guided sightseeing, while this trip will use the city, Congress, the Smithsonian and the national monuments as learning laboratories. It will also provide workshops and discussion groups before and after the visits to Congress, the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress and the national monuments.

The students also have tickets this year to the Holocaust Museum. Baccari-Varrecchione said she made the reservations a year in advance. When the school decided to change the tour and the dates, Project Close Up arranged a ticket swap with another school so the Jamestown students could see the museum.

As in the past, four Jamestown teachers and four parents will accompany the youngsters to Washington, but Project Close Up teachers will lead the workshops and discussions, Baccari-Varrecchione said.

So far, 41 students have signed up for the trip, Almanzor said. Two or three students have opted out for personal reasons. That’s about the same as last year, Baccari- Varrecchione said, when 42 went to Washington.

The children will, however, do more fundraising this year to pay for the trip, she said. Last year, they sold cookies and held a new event, the running of the rubber ducks at Mackerel Cove, to come up with the Washington, D.C. money. This year, the 2,200 ducks, which last year raised $15,000, will swim again. Baccari-Varrecchione said that she doesn’t have a date yet because she has to look into tides and weather conditions.

But mark the calendar for Dec. 3, she said, when the Parent Teacher Organization will raise money for the trip with a raffle basket and a bake sale, a regular part of the Melrose School Holiday Fair. This year, the PTO is donating proceeds to the D.C. trip.

The same day, the eighth-graders will kick off their February calendar raffle, she said.

“It’s like a lottery,” she said. The youngsters will be at McQuade’s, Baker’s Pharmacy and other stores selling 2,500 cardboard calendars, which cost $5 and give the holders a chance at a cash prize every day in February, she said. Regular weekday drawings pay $50, she said, but the weekend lottery winners collect $100, and the special Valentine’s Day prize is $250.

Then on Dec. 14 around 5 p.m., she said, the students will do a promotion for Barnes & Noble bookstore in Middletown. The eighthgrade chorus will sing holiday favorites while the other students pass out flyers. Baccari-Varrecchione said the store will donate 10 percent of that day’s sales, plus 10 percent of online sales on Dec. 14 and three days following.

Fourteen students have already raised $200 apiece by selling cookies, she said.

Almanzor said the school decided to join Project Close Up to improve the tour’s educational value, despite some concern over costs.

“It is more expensive,” she said, but most parents have embraced the new tour and financial help will be arranged for families who cannot afford the price.

Almanzor is trying to obtain grants from the Lions Club and other community chests to cover the travel costs, Baccari-Varrecchione said, because the $1,079 does not include transportation. The class will take the Amtrak train, which turned out to be the least expensive transportation mode, down to Washington. They will leave from the Kingston station, she said. Train tickets for all 41 youngsters, four teachers and four parent escorts will run about $5,000, she said.

Over the past two years, Almanzor said, teachers and staff have periodically assessed the trip, which is taken during a school week, and questioned whether the experience met school standards for instruction time. She looked into a different approach after the East Greenwich schools used Project Close Up and liked the concept, which the nonprofit organization’s web site describes as “hands on civics.”

Project Close Up matches the Jamestown school curriculum and is designed to show youngsters the link between history and their government.

“I’m very excited,” Almanzor said. Project Close Up has won approval from the National Association of Secondary School Principals, she added.

Also, the Jamestown eighthgraders will be in a tour group of 200 middle school youngsters from around the nation.

Their workshops, which each are limited to about 20 students, will also represent a mix from around the U.S., she said.

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