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D.C. is learning lab for Cowherd students on spring trip

Cowherd Middle School’s National Junior Honor Society students teachers White House during their trip WashingtD.C.  |  Submitted

Cowherd Middle School’s National Junior Honor Society students and teachers at the White House during their trip to Washington, D.C. | Submitted

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Updated: May 11, 2012 8:03AM

The best way to judge a vacation is to listen to how it gets talked about afterward.

Listen to the excitement still in the voices of Cowherd Middle School students after their spring break trip to Washington, D.C., and you’ll quickly understand they had a blast.

“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Suliyat Adekola said.

A total of 24 Cowherd students in the National Junior Honor Society, along with teachers, took the 12-hour bus trip from Aurora to Washington, D.C., during the week off from school. Teachers Elizabeth Cerutti and Michelle Wargo led the push for the trip, partly because of memories of their own eighth-grade visit to the nation’s capital.

It started when the pair was there three years ago for a conference. Cerutti recalled saying “We need to bring our kids here.”

“We really wanted to take them to D.C.,” she said.

“It sounded fun,” student Berly Rodriguez said.

To get there, the students needed to raise money. The group washed cars, sold shirts, held a barbecue fundraiser and hosted a haunted house as part of the six-month effort to collect enough money. They also worked out deals with their parents, while some reached out for sponsors — a couple even had some or all of their trip paid for, according to Cerutti.

Once in D.C., the group did more than their fair share of walking as they visited seemingly every historical attraction and points of interest.

“As soon as we stepped off the bus the first time … they were totally engaged,” Wargo said.

Students gave high marks to Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Mount Vernon — President George Washington’s home.

“It’s different to see it all in person,” Isamar Salazar said of learning outside the classroom.

Eberth Delcid was particularly drawn to the Lincoln Memorial and its perfect view of the National Mall, which stretches to the Washington Monument.

“No matter where you went, it was there,” Tonatiu Ruiz-Escobedo said of the Washington Monument, which remains closed in the wake of a 2011 earthquake.

Rodriguez was particularly moved by the Holocaust museum because she and a few others have begun learning about it in class. Again, seeing things in person creates a different type of learning connection.

“Just being there is so moving,” she said.

Four students laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, some ate unique delicacies at the Native American Museum and everyone got to see brand new $100 bills before they hit the streets.

“I forgot to ask for a sample,” Rodriguez joked.

The students’ buzz of excitement becomes even more noticeable as they start to rattle off interesting facts they picked up on the various adventures. After a few minutes, you almost feel as if they were the tour guides at places like the Capitol Building.

“We learned so much each day,” Salazar said.

Wargo believes it.

“With the students, you saw the spark,” she said, adding some might end up back in Washington for — or after — college.

The students blogged regularly about the sights and sounds of D.C., an exercise the teachers felt would help reassure parents back home on how the trip was going. Cowherd staff followed along, telling Cerutti how impressed they were with the writings.

Only a few days after returning from D.C., Cerutti is already thinking about the next trip, which might draw interest from a few of this group’s friends.

Wherever the next Spring Break adventure may be, it certainly will bring new experiences, excitement and empowerment to Cowherd Middle School and the East Aurora district.

Clayton Muhammad is the district spokesman of East Aurora School District 131. He can be reached at

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