During election week this year, eight students from Brewer High School will be in Washington, D.C., getting some serious first-hand experience in the American political process.
The Close Up Group follows the curriculum of the Close Up Foundation, which “informs, inspires, and empowers young people to exercise the rights and accept the responsibilities of citizens in a democracy,” according to the CUF’s Web site. The foundation, which hosts weeklong events from September through May, has helped 740,000 young people since 1971.
Brewer High School has been involved for 25 years. Faculty Advisor Michele Richens took the group’s reins about 15 years ago, and after a few years off, she relaunched it last May. Her goal was to do the D.C. trip during the presidential inauguration in January 2013, but as the most popular Close Up week, everything was a lot more expensive. So Richens targeted election week, cutting the cost per student from $3,000 to $1,500.
“I thought, ‘Well, if you can’t take them to the inauguration, then the election’s got to be the next best thing,’” she said.
When student Linsay Brochu heard about the group, she realized it was an opportunity she couldn’t miss.
“A lot of kids in our school… they’ve been to Europe and Costa Rica and all those places, but nobody’s really been to Washington, D.C.,” she said. “And I think… it’s our nation’s capital, and we should probably start there.”
Brochu isn’t a political junkie yet, but “I think if I go [to D.C.] I might… get interested if I get more educated on it,” she said.
Jacob Caron has a strong interest in politics and says the Washington trip is perfectly timed.
“Going during election week is kind of an unmatched experience,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be able to really do that again. This is just a perfect opportunity; it’s a great time to be able to travel to D.C. and be involved in this exciting time during the year.”
“I took a course last year and I learned a lot about this, and I mostly did this trip because I’d go and see it in action,” said student Jarrod Joy. “I’m really interested in economics and politics.”
This is the right venue for him. On Thursday, Capitol Hill Day, the group will meet with Sen. Olympia Snowe, Sen. Susan Collins, and Rep. Mike Michaud at the Capitol — the only Close Up Group from Maine there that week.
The students will observe committee hearings, explore the Capitol Hill Visitor Center and Museum, and have lunch at the House cafeteria before heading to the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress.
The weeklong trip will include study visits of various memorials, Georgetown, the Newseum, the Smithsonian, and the White House, as well as plenty of other tours and events, as well as an election-night party. They’ll also have time to go off-plan and visit such places as the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum and the International Spy Museum.
With a solid week of Beltway immersion, the students will get a powerful sense of the importance of citizen involvement in the democratic process.
“I encourage students to get involved and to be voters as citizens,” Richens said. “I think that’s extremely important… I’m a big believer in that whole ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ — but that it can only be that if the people participate.”
The Brewer High School Close Up Group formed last May, with students meeting and working fundraisers over the summer, including cash and prize raffles and bottle drives. Parents pitched in, and families, citizens, the City of Brewer, and local businesses helped make the fundraisers successful. Students’ employers worked job schedules around fundraisers and donated raffle prizes. All eight students worked hard as a dedicated team to make the trip a reality.
Richens said she’d like to see high-school students all visiting the nation’s capital, just as middle-school students visit the state capital.
“That would be my dream, if I could take every high-school student in this school to Washington, D.C. at least once through this program, that would be ideal,” she said. “But the money’s not there.”
The money might not be there for next year’s group. If you’re interested in donating to help fund the group, you can donate online at www.closeup.org. Click on Donate, then Support a School, and choose High School. Be sure to enter the right code for Brewer High School, me020 (zero two zero). Donors may also send a check to Brewer High School made payable to Brewer High Close-Up.