New Washington Seminar marks 40th anniversary

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Saturday, March 17, 2012
— Although it’s 40 years old, Washington Seminar is undergoing a first-time experience.

For the first time since it was created in 1973 by Parker High School government teacher John Eyster, Washington Seminar is a district-wide program taught at both Craig and Parker high schools. Forty-four young scholars and eight staff members left at 4:30 this morning for a weeklong field research session in Washington, D.C.

“I am very grateful to be able continue the educational mission and unique teaching methods of the Washington Seminar field experience in its 40th anniversary year,” said Washington Seminar Director Joe Van Rooy, an Advanced Placement teacher at both schools. “The Seminar continues to be a true learning adventure for our high school students taking AP government at both high schools.”

Each year, a unique group of students attends the field research experience. They combine their scholastic classroom learning with what Van Rooy calls “the real-world, outside-the-classroom-walls” learning opportunity in Washington.

Lexy and Lizzy Roehl, 18-year-old twins at Parker, represent a growing number of students who have older siblings who participated in Washington Seminar. The twin’s older sister, Katie, is a Seminar alum.

“I heard from Katie how great the program is,” Lizzy said. “Now we’re going to Washington, and I know it will be a great experience for me. I’m looking forward to working in a big city.”

Lexy and Lizzy’s parents are Jim and Becky Roehl.

Lexy admitted to a few jitters, but said she’ll adapt to the faster pace of D.C.

“I know this will be good for me,” she said. “Once we get going with our interviews and get busy, I’ll forget about being nervous.”

Lexy and Lizzy, along with their 42 colleagues, are responsible for conducting research by interviewing experts on their topics during the week in Washington. Lexy is researching food safety and security issues while Lizzy is studying policy related to the care of wounded veterans.

A variety of issues, chosen by students from a list created by Van Rooy, are studied.

“What makes it exciting for students is the adventure of inquiry learning and individual research on political topics that interest them,” Van Rooy said. “They become experts on their topics by this process, and they later develop an educated opinion on their issue after careful, balanced inquiry.””

Following their research, students develop opinions and offer op-ed pieces to The Gazette. Some of the articles are published.

Some students come by their topics naturally.

Jack Spoden, son of Bob and Grace Spoden, is researching U.S. policy related to the drug wars in Mexico. And, yes, it’s that Bob Spoden, the Rock County sheriff.

“Both my grandfathers were sheriff’s deputies, and my dad’s the sheriff, so it should be no surprise that I chose a law enforcement issue to study,” said Jack, a 17-year-old Craig junior. “I’m looking at a career in either the military or federal law enforcement.”

Jack has lined up an interview with Martin Licciardo, an FBI agent with experience in fighting the Mexican drug cartels and transnational gangs. Jack will conduct the interview inside the FBI headquarters where few people, let alone high school students, are ever allowed to enter.

“My dad put me in touch with an FBI agent in Milwaukee who helped me contact Mr. Licciardo,” Jack said. “It helps to have a dad with contacts.”

Spoden is not the only student with connections.

Every student in the program benefits from the experience and contacts Van Rooy and his staff have built through the years. Local and statewide members of Congress, including Reps. Paul Ryan and Tammy Baldwin and Sens. Herb Kohl and Ron Johnson, provide staff and direction for students searching for optimum interviews.

The Washington Seminar students will return Saturday, March 24, after a week of academic research and cultural experiences, including programs at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Ford’s Theater.

Van Rooy credits his staff and volunteers for the program’s success.

“I also want to thank all the community support we get from organizations and civic groups,” he said. “Without their support, we would not have been able to grow the program to where it is today.”


These Janesville students left today for Washington D.C. to study the following topics:

Stephanie Ahrens: Federal funding for the arts

Zach Anderson: Border security

Derek Arrowood: Renewable energy

Kegan Avery: Nuclear power

Katie Biester: Race to the Top

Jocelyn Bold: Medicare

Kiefer Christenson: Medicare

Sierra Empereur: Banking

Payton Foley: Foreign aid

Madeline Franklin: Climate change

Bryan Fratianne: Church and state

Nichole Fugate: Veterans transition

Morgan Fuller: Domestic terrorism

Andrew Galauner: Alternative energy

Courtney Gies: Medicare

Nick Gorman: Partisan divide in Congress

Baily Green: NATO

Hannah Haakenson: Funding for the arts

Selby Hanewold: Race to the Top

Elizabeth Hazekamp: Income tax policy

Derek Heisz: National debt

Zak Kurtz: US-China relations

Bryce Kitzman: Federal Reserve

Jamie Lilburn: College financial aid

Lydia Lobrano: 9/11 Commission recommendations

Nick Masterson: Medicare

Keegan Miller: Renewable energy

Ryan Myers: Medicare

Mary O’Leary: Renewable energy

Beth Pessoa: Wounded veterans

Stephanie Potter: Wounded veterans

Tai Pratt: Childhood obesity

Emily Punzel: Foreign aid

Adam Rieder: Military manpower

Lexy Roehl: Food safety

Lizzy Roehl: Wounded veterans

Andrew Schroeder: Alternative energy

Jack Spoden: Mexican drug wars

Maddie Theisen: Income tax

Decker Thompson: Wind power

Matt Traynor: Immigration

Ian Weiland: Manufacturing policy

Last updated: 7:56 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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