For the 48th year in a row, Parker High School government students will conduct field research in Washington, D.C., but for 2020 the research will be virtual.
The Parker AP Government scholars were forced to cancel their annual trip to D.C. this year because of concerns about the coronavirus. It is the first time in the program’s history, which started in 1973, that the students will not study on D.C. soil.
Despite the change, the Washington Seminar scholars will study a wide range of topics, including controversial issues such as immigration, health care reform, student loan debt and Chinese tariffs.
Virtual arrangements are now being made to replicate the original schedule. Video conferences are being arranged for some briefings. Email interviews are replacing some of the face-to-face contacts.
The research week usually starts with a briefing Monday morning at the National Press Club. This year, Amy Goldstein, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter with The Washington Post, will brief the students and take questions. Goldstein said The Post has been closed because of the virus, and she and other reporters are working from home.
Goldstein is well-known locally as the author of “Janesville: An American Story.” She chose Janesville as the site to report on how the loss of a major employer, such as General Motors, can affect a community.
A video conference is planned with Steven Olikara, founder and president of the Millennial Action Project. The group was formed to re-establish political cooperation from all political and philosophical sides by activating the nation’s younger generations.
Parker’s Washington Seminar is the same week Congress is in recess.
Kate Bennett, Parker AP Government teacher and Washington Seminar director, has made arrangements to overcome that challenge—even though seminar plans must be made months in advance.
“When we scheduled our seminar dates last year, the House and Senate calendars had not been set,” she said. “When we realized Congress would not be in session, we locked in sessions with congressional staff that will be beneficial to the students.”
Among other meetings, briefings have been set up with top staff members in the offices of Reps. Bryan Steil and Mark Pocan and Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson.
Bennett says Washington Seminar complements the AP class, and the virtual experience this year retains that relationship.
“Seminar field research is an integral component of the AP American government and political curriculum,” she said. “Not only do students have the opportunity to practice their research and collegiate writing skills, they are learning the curriculum in an experiential manner. The experiences they gain through the seminar project will benefit them as they proceed into their collegiate and/or professional careers.
“The students are terribly disappointed that we will not be traveling to D.C. to make the personal contacts for our briefings, question-and-answer sessions and interviews,” Bennett said. “The good news is that we will continue the Washington Seminar tradition, but in a different way.”
Former Parker Washington Seminar Director Joe Van Rooy coined the phrase that all arrangements made in D.C. are “on firm Jell-O.”
The 2020 edition is a classic example.