While on summer break, two Warren Early College High School students, Kiah Durham and Kallisto Hill, traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Close Up Washington program.
The Close Up Foundation is a nonprofit, non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization that provides civic education programs and classroom resources that educate and inspire young people to become informed and engaged citizens.
While in the nation's capital, both Durham and Hill learned about their roles as young people in the democratic process and practiced active citizenship skills. They, along with 300 other students from across the country, heard from speakers, explored the monuments and museums, attended a play, and most notably met their Congressional representatives. Durham and Hill met and talked with Senator Richard Burr, recently elected Senator Thom Tillis, and their House Representative G.K. Butterfield, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus. Accompanied by their teacher, Annika Conrad, the two students asked questions to both senators and had a sit down meeting with a staffer at Butterfield's office before taking photos with each congressman.
"I learned that no matter what age you are, your opinion matters to the government because that's how they're going to make laws. It matters what you have to say, so don't be afraid to speak out about it," said Durham, a sophomore at Warren Early College. Her advice to other students who are interested is, "Go to Washington; all the monuments are better in person."
"I feel like it definitely opened my eyes. It let me experience how people my age think about how we run this country now, and it has allowed me to view how politicians think about my generation," Hill said. "It also helped me walk through important landmarks throughout history firsthand, and what made our country the way it is today. The experience overall has made my interest in how this country runs increase dramatically."
Hill said that participating in Close Up allowed her to do things that most people don't get to experience.
"We were able to hear important political speakers talk about issues that were in our country and even issues that were happening around the world that were affecting the U.S. We were also able to talk to these people one-on-one at some points," she said. "I was able to see how even though most of the people there were only 16 to 18, we still were affected by policies and laws that our representatives were voting for and against. It made me realize that it is my responsibility to make sure I am educated on what my government is doing."
While in Washington, Durham and Hill enhanced their civic knowledge and developed the skills and attitudes necessary for a lifetime of active citizenship. They participated in memorial study visits at some of Washington, D.C.'s iconic sites, had current issues workshop sessions, and took on the role of members of Congress in a legislative simulation.
Students also debated some of the most important issues facing policymakers and practiced civil discourse with other students joining them. Students heard from experts and activists, including representatives from the Environmental Defense Fund, the American Kurdish Information Network, and the Campaign for Youth Justice.
Close Up President and CEO Timothy Davis said that this experience "increases students' political efficacy by giving them the confidence to dialogue directly with decision makers."
"It is an honor to have our students participate in such a program that will prepare them to become active citizens," said Warren Early College Principal Tracey Neal. "Our students had the opportunity to experience living history as they stepped out of their classrooms into our nation's capital. We look forward to continuing our participation with the Close Up Foundation."
Since 1971, nearly 800,000 students and teachers from across the country have participated in Close Up's Washington-based programs.