A moment Michelle Bennett shared with one of her students during a school trip to Washington, D.C., illustrates why she’s taking another group of 35 seventh- and eighth-graders from Jamestown Elementary School to the nation’s capital this June.
Bennett said they went to a shopping mall in Arlington, Virginia, after having just visited the nearby Iwo Jima Memorial, when a boy gazed up in wonder and told her he’d never been to a mall before.
“What about the mall in Modesto?” Bennett asked.
“I’ve never been to Modesto,” the boy replied.
“It’s about giving kids the opportunity to show them there’s more than just Jamestown and Tuolumne County,” Bennett said in her classroom Wednesday morning. “There’s a big world out there, they just have to go out and find it.”
The five-day trip is scheduled for June 12 to 16 and will also include a stop in New York City, where Bennett has also never visited. She will be accompanied by 19 adult chaperones on the trip as well.
Students going on the trip have been raising money for the past 18 months to help cover some of the trip’s $2,339 per student price tag, which includes flights, hotels food, transportation and all entry fees to the various museums and attractions they plan to visit.
“My thought is if we can raise a third of the cost for the trip, coming up with the rest in a year-and-a-half makes it more feasible for their parents,” Bennett said. “I’d like to give every student the option of going, but because of financial difficulties that’s not always possible.”
So far, the students have helped raise nearly $20,000 by holding fundraisers at local businesses, organizing events such as color runs, and selling pies, candles, kettle corn, candied apples and more at local events.
Bennett teaches seventh- and eighth-grade English and social studies at the school. She was named “Teacher of the Year” in 2016 by the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce.
State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, visited Bennett’s classroom Wednesday morning and spoke to about 54 students, many of whom will be going on the trip in June. He talked about taking his daughter, Samantha, to Washington, D.C., and touring the White House a couple of years ago.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for kids to get a glimpse of an institution that’s the best in the world,” Berryhill said. “Many will have a permanent imprint by going to Washington, D.C.”
Berryhill will term-out of the California State Legislature in December after having served 12 years, first as an assemblyman then as a state senator. He’s running for the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors in 2018.
One of the students asked Berryhill about the notable people he’s met during his political career.
“Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Berryhill said, which was met with audible “oohs” and “aahs” from the awestruck students.
“He’s not all that impressive,” Berryhill quipped.
Berryhill told the students he’s “actually pretty good friends” with Gov. Jerry Brown, who he’s worked with on legislation.
“He’s a Democrat and I’m a Republican, but this is a people business,” Berryhill said. “If you love people, you’ll love politics.”
The itinerary for the June trip is jam-packed with famous sights in D.C. and New York City, including Arlington National Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, White House, Pentagon 9/11 Memorial, Rockefeller center, and the National 9/11 Memorial on the former grounds of the World Trade Center.
All of the students going on the trip were born after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and many who were interviewed Wednesday said they were most looking forward to learning more about the history-making tragedy.
“So many people got hurt from it and I want to know more about it,” said Destinie Johnson, 13, of Sonora.
Johnson’s brother, Tyler, went on the trip last year and brought her back a souvenir, so she said that she’s looking forward to being able to return the favor.
Others were looking forward to seeing historical landmarks and museums, like the World War II Memorial
“I’ve always loved history, and it’s so fascinating to look at that stuff,” said Logan Charles, 13, of Jamestown. “When people talk about Washington D.C., it makes me think about the historical landmarks that can be gateways into the past.”
Caius Bell, 13, of Sonora, said he’s most interested in visiting New York City because it will be his first time visiting such a major urban center.
The group plans to take in a Broadway show while in the city as well.
“I think I’ll learn what it’s like to be outside of the state, because I haven’t been outside of the state at all,” said Bell.
Bennett said the payments for the trip are due at the end of March, but the students will continue fundraising through May. They hope to raise an additional $3,500 so that each student will have $100 to spend on the trip.
There is also a Facebook page called “Jamestown D.C. Trip” where Bennett will share live videos and photos during the trip.
Anyone interested in donating to the cause can learn more by contacting Bennett at email@example.com or (209) 984-5217, ext. 3104. The school is also accepting donations at 18299 Fifth Ave., Jamestown, CA, 95327.