A group of West Jackson Middle School students on a field trip to the nation’s capital witnessed history in the making on Sunday when a protest of monuments and memorials closures drew attendance from veterans and politicians from all over the county.
Eighth grade teacher and field trip leader Ashley Summers said that the students stood atop the Lincoln Memorial on Oct. 13 singing the National Anthem, while hundreds, then thousands of veterans, gathered to peacefully protest the recent government shutdown. The local students even chanted, "Tear down the walls,” while the protestors removed the barriers to the Lincoln Memorial.
Sunday was the students’ second-to-last day of their four-day fall break trip to Washington, D.C., when they visited the Vietnam and Lincoln memorials. Veterans had gathered at the WWII Memorial, which was barricaded and blocked by capital police.
“We had been talking with the students about the protest and their first amendment rights. They wanted to experience it first-hand. What a learning experience!” Summers said. “We had many veterans and teachers stop our students and tell them how proud they were of them for being in D.C. during this time and witnessing the events. Many (students) reported this was their favorite part of the trip.”
Student Jeffrey Todd called seeing the protest “an amazing, once if a lifetime opportunity.”
Student Adam McGuffey said he agreed with everything the protestors were saying. “It is not right that our government closes down memorials but keeps open the President's golf course. When I walked through the crowd of people, I heard a man in middle stating ‘the government is not in charge, the people are,’ and that had a big influence on me and changed my thoughts on government,” he said.
After standing with the veterans at the protest, student Lane Sharpton said she thought it made a difference to the people to help tear down the barriers with all the memorials closed.
Student Karrin Swenson said she felt like she took a ‘good part’ in the protest. "I respect the protestors, truckers, and veterans because they deserved to be at the memorials. The government was taking away rights by shutting down the memorials. It felt good to be there with them.”
Student Ben Gilbreath said he thinks “(it is) not right for something to be taken away that was rightfully earned by the WWII Vets. We, as the people, should be able to see it and learn about it without the government shutting it down."" (The protest at the Lincoln Memorial) taught us we should never give up our rights and to always keep fighting, fighting, and fighting."
News of the Oct. 1 government shutdown did not interfere with the group’s plan to visit the capital, which had been scheduled since March.
“Our tour company was able to work out an excellent ‘itinerary B’,” said Summers. “We also knew that at any moment, the shutdown could be over. Although some of our original stops were closed (Air and Space Museum, Holocaust), we were given first-hand looks at places by our Class Act Coordinator, Rick Templeton.”
The timing allowed for the group “to experience many things that a ‘normal’ D.C. tour would not (offer),” said Summers. “Many of our visits were personalized, such as our experience at the Ford Theater and the route of the Lincoln assassination. In return, we did not have major crowds or lines at many stops and were able to make history at the Lincoln Memorial… everything in D.C. was very sparsely populated (and) we have some wonderful photos.”
The students were even able to see inside the House of Representatives and the Senate because of the shutdown and many officials were still milling around on the floor of those areas after discussing budget negotiations, she added.
While at the monuments on Sunday, the group met and took a picture with Sarah Palin. “She was very complimentary of our students and their presence in the nation's capital,” said Summers.
Aside from Summers, WJMS teachers who went on the trip are Lara Komanecky, Lindsey Erickson, and Sarah Cosey. The 48 students who went on the trip are: Carlie Anderson, Taylor Ann Pruett, Cassie Sartain, Ashley Miller, Colin McMenomy, Jeffrey Todd, Adam McGuffey, Taylor Ouzts, Jacob Sapecky, Joseph Sapecky, Jacob Doster, Lina Arvberger, Kaitlyn Logan, Riley McGrath, Lane Sharpton, Hunter Baggett, Ben Gilbreath, Hayden Dutton, Kyle Langston, Drew O'Steen, Collin Lewis, Bryce Byrnes, Nathan Sawyer, Brendon Mitchell, Evan Lawrence, Russell Spence, Katherine Aviles, Marissa Vaughn, Sam Bennett, AJ Atwell, Hunter Cantrell, Jace Gephart, Karrin Swenson, Jordan Pirkle, McKenna Waite, Alanna Dorsey, Samantha Muller, Abril Comacho, Abby Bernath, Nate Wade, CJ Coleman, Brandon Damaska, Luke Avery, Jackson Harris, Cameron Neely, Cody Sorrow and Austin Williams.
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