These students were Hunter Cross, Daisjah Johnson, Willie Nero, Markeith Stepter and Alyssa Vessell. Hunter’s mother also accompanied the group.
In Washington they joined groups from Missouri and Texas (29 students total), and were escorted by qualified personnel from World Strides, a non-profit company with more than 50 years’ experience with educational trips.
Their teacher, Lucas Spielfogel, began work on the trip last fall, believing that learning occurs at least as often outside the classroom as inside. Baker Middle School was “uninvolved,” he said.
The cost was $1,750 per student and each of the five students was responsible for raising $300 which they did. Major donations were also received from the Baker Charitable Foundation, Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Knights of Columbus, Rotary and numerous individuals.
None of the students had flown before, so that was their first adventure. Only one admitted being “terrified with popping ears” but was inspired by what he saw and learned in D.C.
Each day they wore matching T-shirts printed with “Baker Middle School,” for each day. Colors were green one day, then purple, orange and yellow.
"The matching t-shirts in bright colors were for easy identification since we were among thousands of kids touring D.C. that week," Spielfogel said.
The group toured from dawn to 9 or 10 p.m. and saw monuments, museums, memorials, Mount Vernon, Ford’s Theatre where Lincoln was shot, National Art Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution complex.
Hunter found the trip fun and exciting. He said he found out a lot about Arlington National Cemetery, Lincoln Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial and Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. FDR had polio and Hunter learned his wheelchair had been fashioned from a kitchen chair.
Willie was impressed by Arlington National Cemetery and the Kennedy gravesites, among the thousands of others. In the wax museum he liked seeing Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. He brought home Obama bobbleheads for souvenirs.
Markeith was “mesmerized” by the 9-11 Pentagon Memorial and said Washington is filled with traffic. His favorites at the wax museum were Harriet Tubman, the presidents and celebrities.
Alyssa was impressed by the Potomac River and the 3,000 cherry blossom trees from Japan. There was lots of walking and “everything was high up,” she said, meaning it was hilly, not flat like it is here.
Colleen Cross, the parent with the group, went because she had never been to D.C. She thinks everyone should visit and the tour made her proud to be an American. At Arlington the guide explained who could be buried there – honorably discharged military personnel and immediate families. Cremains are now being accepted for burial because the cemetery is running out of space, she said.
Other stops were made at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Challenger Memorial, war memorials for the Air Force, Iwo Jima Marine, Korean, Navy, Vietnam and WWII.
Also the Capitol, National Archives, National Cathedral, White House, National History Museum, Museum of American History, Holocaust Museum and Old Post Office.
Although not on their itinerary, on the last day they were able to squeeze in a visit to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum where the kids posed for photographs with the wax figures.
The lives of these students were enriched through experiential travel. "I have no doubt about the profound impact that this trip had on these students and will have on other students in the future," said Spielfogel.
Spielfogel, who graduated from Yale University in 2010, joined Teach For America-South Louisiana, and has taught at Baker Middle for two years. He “fostered a passion for education that I never thought possible,” he said.
In May, Spielfogel was named Outstanding Teacher of the Year for Baker Middle School and later in the month resigned from teaching for personal reasons.