DC trip expands Prescott students' vistas

For most students, it was their first time on an airplane, let alone in the nation's capital.

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PRESCOTT -- Taking in the sights of the nation's capital turned out to be an added bonus to mark the end of the school year for several students at Vista Hermosa Elementary.

The school's fifth- and sixth-graders -- who total eight -- left for Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day and returned home June 5.

They brought back memorable experiences, the first of which was getting to travel away from home.

"For the majority, except for maybe two or three of them, it was their first time on a plane," said Erika Romero, a Vista Hermosa staff member who served as the girls' chaperone for the trip.

The students who traveled are: Rodrigo Gonzales, 12; Jason Moreno, 12; Osiel Guerrero, 11; Ancelin Luna, 13; Andrea Trejo, 12; Kenia Trejo, 12; Nayeli Guzman, 11; and Elizabeth Perez, 11.

The students took in typical sights fitting for an educational trip to the country's capital. They got to tour the White House and visit the Smithsonian Institution and U.S. Capitol. By week's end, the chaperones gave the students a chance to choose their own adventures, which included trips to the city's zoo and the National Air and Space Museum, and a meal at Johnny Rockets, an international chain of eateries with a 1950s theme.

"Toward the end of the trip we just wanted to make it fun for them," Romero said. "We let them choose."

Romero was assisted by David Clearman, a Vista Hermosa teacher who was the boys' chaperone.

Vista Hermosa is a private, faith-based school that primarily serves families employed by Broetje Orchards. The school is in the Broetje Orchards community, and teaches about 120 children in preschool through sixth grades.

Vista Hermosa Foundation, Broetje's philanthropic arm, covered the cost of airfare and hotel stay, after the students and their families raised what money they could. Romero said students held bake sales for several Fridays at their school. Parents helped by making and selling food throughout the community to raise cash. The group also held a Cinco de Mayo fundraising event.

"The parents and students worked really hard for it," she said.

In the end, the students were able to raise enough to cover their meals for the weeklong trip, and for spending money.

Romero said the idea for the trip came from another staff member who recalled taking a memorable trip to the nation's capital in high school. The idea soon grew to planning such a trip for several of the school's students.

Romero said she and her coworker approached principal Nicolas Zavala to share the idea.

"We just didn't let it go," she said.

As the idea grew into an actual plan, students and their families were encouraged to start raising money. Vista Hermosa Foundation was notified of the work going on at the school for the trip, and received its support.

Because Vista Hermosa is a small school, organizers were able to send all of the fifth- and sixth-grade students, who learn in a combined class.

Suzanne Broetje, executive director of the Vista Hermosa Foundation, said the foundation covers funding for the private school, and approved the Washington, D.C., trip knowing it would be an educational and unique experience for the children.

"We give them a lot of operational support, and the freedom to use their budget as they like," she said.

"When we approved the funding that we gave to them, I knew that was one of their visions. We were certainly very supportive of their efforts to do that."

Broetje said the foundation recognized that without its support, such a trip would be unrealistic for the families.

"That wouldn't be on their list of priorities, to do something like that," she said.

Broetje said she understood organizers of the trip were building on the school's mission statement, which strives to educate students as "young scholars, community leaders, and citizens of the world."

"That's what they were really drawing on when they said, let's see what we can do with these kids," she said.

"I hear it was an awesome experience," she added.

Romero said she had chaperoned students with Clearman before for a trip to Seattle, but the flight to Washington, D.C., was a new experience.

"It was an experience we'll never forget," Romero said.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.

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