With only 19 students on board for the first trip in 1989, Maddox history teacher Greg Tinker set the yearly trip into motion. Shortly after, another Maddox history teacher, Karen Hamman, joined Tinker and students on the excursion. Tinker refers to the trip as a lifetime “investment.”
“I think the value of it is that the parent(s) invest in their child’s long-term education, so although it is expensive, it is a great investment in exposing them to things that they can’t read in a book or can’t see on TV necessarily. You get to actually be there and participate in it,” Tinker said. “We get to go onto the floor of the House where the President just a couple of weeks before has given his State of the Union address. ... That is pretty extraordinary when you think about it. Not many people get a chance to go onto the floor of the House. So, the value of the trip is that our students will get to see and do things that the average person does not get to do.”
Hamman said the Maddox group usually travels through the Washington Workshop Foundation, a nonprofit education organization that holds national government leadership seminars in the nation’s capital for high school and junior high school kids.
“They kind of make our schedule for us, but we can change it and kind of do what we want to. We see all the monuments, of course, and the memorials. We visit all the Smithsonian museums and the Holocaust Museum,” Hamman said. “We meet with our representative, Aderholt, who always takes us to the floor of the House. We meet with Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby.”
Both teachers told of the many highlights the trip offers, such as visiting a different embassy every year, taking in a play at the Kennedy Center, enjoying a dinner cruise on the Potomac River, visiting Mt. Vernon, the Washington National Cathedral and the Supreme Court. Tinker mentioned that out of the many years the Maddox troup have traveled to D.C., twice they were invited to the White House — once while Bill Clinton was in office and again when George H.W. Bush was president.
“To me, one of the most impressive things that we get to do is visit Arlington National Cemetery, and our students get to participate in a wreath laying ceremony,” Hamman said. “That’s where the students actually lay a wreath from Maddox Middle School on the tomb of the unknown soldier.”
The trip has played an important role over the years to a number of students.
The history duo mentioned how one former student, Lee Douglass “Dougie” Simmons, knew she wanted to have a career in politics after taking the trip in 1993.
“We’ve actually had students who have gone back and worked in Washington, and some of them at a very high level, particularly Lee Douglas who worked with President [George H.] Bush, traveled with him [and] worked in the West Wing,” Tinker said. “And, we’ve had many others who have gone back and worked with a representative or a senator. They’ve gone back in some capacity to Washington, and the trip was the catalyst for that.”
The trip, in which participants usually leave on a Sunday and return on a Friday, is typically scheduled for the last full week in February. From Alabama, the group flies to Baltimore and then takes a bus into Washington, D.C. Maddox Middle School Principal Patsy Stricklin thinks the trip greatly benefits students not only in their education, but also in their future endeavors.
“It’s just a wonderful opportunity for our eighth-grade students and many of our parents, because we have quite a large number of parents who attend with us, and sometimes we have to draw names in order to limit that number of parents,” Stricklin said. “But, it’s just a great educational opportunity for our students, and I think the experiences do help them to look at things in a different light and maybe have aspirations of different careers based on what they experienced during the week.”
The trip isn’t something thrown together within a month, but the planning process begins a year in advance. The ball starts rolling in September shortly after the school year begins and then, after a series of meetings and payments, the group is finally assembled. The D.C. trip costs a pretty penny, too, having interested parents planning and saving cash during their child’s sixth- and seventh-grade year at Maddox. Hamman said they usually hand out a notice about the trip to students before the end of their seventh-grade school year.
After a few trial-and-error years, Tinker said Delta Transfer provides a service for the school by transporting the group’s luggage to and from Washington, D.C., so students, parents and faculty members will arrive without the hassel of searching and obtaining their luggage at the airport.
“That’s a great service that they do for us. They get our luggage on Saturday, drive it up and have it there for us on Sunday when we arrive at the hotel,” he said. “Then, of course, they do the same thing coming back, and we pick it up a day later here at the school.”
Besides celebrating 25 years and being considered a once-in-a-lifetime occasion for some, this year’s Washington, D.C., trip was the most memorable for Stricklin for a number of reasons. For one, this year was Stricklin’s last capital trip. In honor of the past 25 years, she received an American flag that was flown over the capitol, which was presented by Congressman Robert Aderholt. The Washington Workshop Foundation also presented the school with a framed picture of the U.S. Capitol building for its participation through the foundation over the past 25 years.
“I love Washington, D.C., first of all, and I wanted the students to be able to have a first-hand experience of Washington, because I think once a student is exposed to their nation’s capital then they have a heightened interest in being a citizen,” Tinker said. “They have a heightened interest in how the country works. I think it just helps them to be a more well-rounded person, and I wanted them to have that experience.”
Each of the three mentioned their favorite, individual trips over the span of 25 years. Tinker enjoyed the White House visits; Hamman delighted in experiencing the trip with both of her sons during their eighth-grade years; and Stricklin acknowledged this year as her favorite.
“I would really say this year because it just seemed like the perfect trip. Our kids were great,” Stricklin said. “Their behavior, their interest, it was just exceptional. And, we had a great group of parents with us. I think experiencing the snow on those two days was special, too. It was a great trip this year.”
“It really is a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip because of all that we do in a week’s time. Once we get there, we go from early in the morning until late at night,” Tinker added. “It is an activity-packed week. I just think it’s one of those trips that students never forget. It can be life-changing, and it has been for some of our students.”