During their tour of the battlefield at Gettysburg, Penn., the Fillmore Central senior class stopped for a photo by the monument memorializing the Minnesota regiment which fought in the battle. This June will be the 150th anniversary of the battle. PHOTO COURTESY OF GERRI NEILSEN
During their tour of the battlefield at Gettysburg, Penn., the Fillmore Central senior class stopped for a photo by the monument memorializing the Minnesota regiment which fought in the battle. This June will be the 150th anniversary of the battle. PHOTO COURTESY OF GERRI NEILSEN
It's a social experiment that has been taking place each year for the past 20 years at Fillmore Central High School. After concluding this year's senior class trip to Washington, D.C., and New York City on April 14, it was proven again that both students and chaperones would take away more life-lasting memories and positive individual growth than they would have thought possible.

The annual senior class trip has placed 40 to 60 people, who are mostly around the same age, on a nine-day trip where they are around each other during most hours of the day and night. The students and faculty also move at a pace more rapid than they do at school.

Chaperone Bonnie Tammel, whose son, Jake, went on the trip this year, shared, "How much they fit into one day is unbelievable."

Early mornings, late nights, and many miles in between just begin to tell the many stories each student brought back with them.

The story began even before the first bus left. Each year, when students are in grades 9 through 12, they pay class dues. Besides going towards other expenses for the class, much of that money goes into each student's senior class trip account. That way, the necessity of fundraising is lessened by a small degree.

As seniors, the responsibility to fundraise increases and is satisfied by various ventures. Recycling aluminum cans, selling raffle tickets and running concession stands at sporting events all help raise the needed money. In order to take the stress away from raising a specific dollar amount, a points system was put in place instead. Points are awarded through doing the things that will help raise the money. Earn a certain number of points and the student does not need to pay the last few hundred dollars of their trip. The points-in-place-of-dollars system has worked well for Fillmore Central and the money is raised. Seniors dedicate more time for this effort than any other fundraiser the school holds throughout the year.

When the first bus left the high school at 4:30 a.m. on April 5, many of the students were probably wondering if it was worth it. Following a few more hours of sleep, they reawakened on the Hawkeye Stages motor coach bus en route to Chicago. By that time, everyone was excited for what lay ahead. They toured the Willis Tower, which is the second tallest building in the world. There, around 25 students got stuck in an elevator near ground level for around 20 minutes.

They toured downtown Chicago, Millenium Park and made a stop along Lake Michigan.

However, most of that first day was spent on the bus, learning about several important events in American history. Many were related to the Civil War and Gettysburg, where they were headed the following day.

At Gettysburg, the students went on a walking tour of portions of the battlefield, did an activity relating to using cannons, and listened to classmates Mike Walsh and Jordan O'Connor give speeches originally given by Edward Everett and Abraham Lincoln.

O'Connor said the experience of reciting the Gettysburg Address helped her realize that Lincoln actually gave the speech in that same spot. Since it was the 150th anniversary of the battle this June, there were many people at the battlefield.

That evening, the class took a night tour of the battlefield. According to one senior, "the walk was freaky."

The following morning, tour guide Phil Cole led the seniors to other parts of the battlefield. Leaving Gettysburg, they then made their way to Harpers Ferry, W.V., which rests at the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.

The 1859 raid on the Armory by men led by John Brown actually helped lead to the Civil War. Experiencing the history at these places helped the students put their knowledge into perspective. Senior Alex Johnson noted how much towns like Gettysburg and Harpers Ferry have become tourist traps. "People experience the history, but the locals take advantage," he stated.

Leaving Harpers Ferry, it was only just over an hour before the group arrived in the nation's capitol, Washington, D.C. Another evening tour of several monuments was scheduled. The group visited the Lincoln, Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and FDR Memorials. They also walked by the Vietnam Wall, Nurses Memorial and the Korean War Memorial.

One senior said he felt awe when moving through the FDR memorial. "I'm a huge fan of his. I was soaking it in the whole time." The next three days would be filled with experiences in and around the city.

Following an early morning visit on April 8 to George Washington's plantation and home at Mount Vernon, everyone toured the Capitol. They were able to trace the path the President takes on his inauguration day into the rotunda and Statuary Hall. After leaving the Capitol, the class had a group souvenir photo taken in the same spot previous senior classes had had their pictures taken.

They were then allowed to have some time to explore for themselves. The day was capped off with a buffet dinner on a dance cruise along the Potomac. Senior class trip advisor Joe Stevens explained that the cruise was one of the most popular events during the trip.

The morning of the fifth day saw the group packing the buses once again to cross the border into Maryland. They visited the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. They received a guided tour of the campus, which impressed Chris Collett quite a bit. "My cousin is in the Navy and he went to the Naval Academy. It helped me understand what he had to do and I have a lot of respect for that," he shared.

The afternoon was spent visiting the American History and Natural History Museums and the Holocaust Museum. Tammel said the Holocaust Museum was a very serious experience for everyone. German foreign exchange student Wiebke Bùchsenschùtz said her experience was similar, if only a bit awkward.

The group then headed over to the White House, which both met and failed to meet expectations. Austrian foreign exchange student Jakob Ritter was overall impressed with the city, but said he thought the White House was not impressive as it was smaller than he thought. Following another group picture in front of the White House, the day concluded with visits to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Air Force Memorial.

This is the first part of a two-part series about the class trip. Please look in next week's issue for the conclusion of this story.