Forty middle school students from Janesville and Walworth County will pack a bus Monday for a Boys and Girls Club trip to Washington, D.C.
The bus leaves before dawn. The ride will last about 13 hours, an agonizingly long time for anyone to spend in a vehicle but especially for kids of a restless age.
“We have a few tricks up our sleeve,” said Boys and Girls Club of Janesville Executive Director Sara Stinski when asked how she plans to keep everyone entertained. “The kids will be bringing some stuff to do … And we’ll be packing a few icebreaker games.”
This is the first year the local chapter will embark on an educational trip to the nation’s capital. The club plans to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the World War II Memorial and Arlington Cemetery, among other monuments and museums.
Money for meals, lodging and exhibits comes thanks to a grant from Herb Kohl Philanthropies.
The former U.S. senator’s charitable organization has sent Milwaukee-area kids on similar trips in the past. This year, it expanded the opportunity to 20 clubs throughout the state, Stinski said.
As part of the grant, students had to earn the privilege to attend the trip. They had to apply and submit a letter of recommendation.
About 60 kids applied for the 40 openings. Once selected, they needed to attend a handful of career readiness and life skills classes to preserve their spot. A few were dropped after not attending all the necessary classes, she said.
“We wanted kids to really feel that they had earned the scholarship,” Stinski said. “That it’s not just a freebie. It’s something that they had to fulfill some obligations and show some responsibility.”
Some kids going on the trip, which returns Friday, were not previously members of the Boys and Girls Club. Some were members when they were little before leaving.
Stinski felt an open application process would help recruit new kids to the club.
Kierra Schmaling will start her freshman year at Craig High School this fall. The club has given her a place where she is comfortable being herself, she said.
Vanna Kampmann will soon begin eighth grade at Arise Virtual Academy and plans on remaining a Boys and Girls Club member after the trip.
She has been to Washington, D.C. once before when she was 5, but now that she’s older, she can better appreciate the city and its monuments. She is one of four students chosen to lay wreaths at Arlington Cemetery during this trip.
Stinski said this trip is important for students whose families might not have the financial means to travel there. And the itinerary will give kids a better connection to American history and politics.
“We’re here to grow kids into awesome adults. A big part of that is giving them the same opportunities for new experiences,” Stinski said. “I think this trip has a way of giving kids ownership over some of the important places in our country and the important things they’re going to be learning about in history class.
“It makes the world seem more accessible. ‘I’ve been there; I’ve seen that; I’ve taken part in that ceremony.’”