The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 11, 2013

Pittsburg High School students, teacher to attend presidential inauguration

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Gracie Spencer, a senior at Pittsburg High School, expects to have trouble falling asleep next week, but it’s not because she’ll be cramming for tests.

She’ll be one of 14 PHS students traveling to Washington, D.C., next Saturday for a long-distance field trip that coincides with the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

“I was a little stressed and nervous at first, because I’ve never flown on a plane before and I’ll be going on a long trip without my parents for the first time,” she said. “But then we had a meeting to go over everything we’d be doing and how it would all work. It’s hard to concentrate on classes now because it’s going to be so exciting.”

The PHS trip is being organized by WorldStrides, an educational nonprofit travel group that has been offering inaugural trips for 20 years by invitation only. It is being coordinated at the school level by government teacher Gary Wolgamott. The trip was open to any PHS student who wanted to participate at a cost of $1,700, which covers all travel, lodging and most meals.

Spencer, who applied for and was awarded a $300 scholarship by WorldStrides, worked as a waitress at Chicken Mary’s for the past year in order to match the $700 her parents were contributing and to put away spending money for the trip.

“It’s an opportunity I might never have again,” she said. “I’ll be there when history is happening. I’ll be able to say to my kids and grandkids that I was in our nation’s capital during the inauguration.”

Because security measures at the actual inauguration will be so tight, Wolgamott and his students decided to watch it from the National Mall via large screens. They also will visit Arlington National Cemetery, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, war memorials, and will have photo-taking opportunities at the White House and in front of Ford’s Theatre.

“One thing we struggle with in education is establishing relevance,” Wolgamott said. “Students always ask, ‘Why do we need to know that?’ This will demonstrate that to them. Some have already taken government and history, some are in it now, some will be taking it. When we talk about the Library of Congress, they will have been there. They will have seen it. It will be much more meaningful, more alive, for them.”

Wolgamott, who served as an officer in the U.S. Army before teaching, said he had goose bumps when he visited the Vietnam War Memorial and other sites where the nation’s Founding Fathers walked or were honored.

“Seeing the graves at Arlington, seeing the Holocaust Museum, we’ll have some emotion, I’m sure,” he said. “I’m hoping to drive home the realities of what these kids are learning in class.”

Inaugural activities

The presidential inauguration will be held Monday, Jan. 21, with a week of festivities leading up to it, including the presidential swearing-in ceremony, inaugural address, inaugural parade and numerous balls and galas. The official theme for the 2013 inauguration is “Faith in America’s Future,” commemorating the United States’ perseverance and unity. To be held on Martin Luther King Day, it also marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the placement of the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Dome in 1863.