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Capital Becomes a 'Presidential Classroom'

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Presidential staff members in both the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations talked of making the capital city a "classroom" for young people from around the nation, but it was not until a group of businessmen acted in 1969 that "A Presidential Classroom for Young Americans" came into existence.

The nonprofit, tax-exempt Presidential Classroom organization now sponsors eight spring programs for 400 high-school juniors and two intensive summer sessions for teachers and college students, according to its executive director, Angie B. Whitaker.

Program Features: Students occupy one wing of a Washington hotel during their weeklong visit and travel to and from speeches and Capitol Hill by bus. They participate in seminars drawing upon readings in Power and Politics in the Federal Forum, the program's assigned textbook. Students spend one night at the theater and on Friday night attend a dinner/dance and graduation ceremony, says Ms. Whitaker.

Instructors: The 20 Presidential Classroom instructors (two for each section of 45 students) are volunteers who are either on loan from government agencies or past participants who are members of the organization's 3,000-member alumni association, according to Ms. Whitaker.

Teacher Programs: Presidential Classroom students come without teachers. "We want this to be their week," says Ms. Whitaker about the students. "It's far less inhibiting for students if they feel they are here totally on their own."

Selection Procedure and Criteria for Acceptance: Students file applications, which the organization sends out to interested teachers, and attend the program on an individual basis. While there is no academic-grade criterion for the selection of Presidential Classroom participants, the majority "are active and very highly motivated," says Ms. Whitaker. Ninety percent of those chosen are in the top 10 percent of their class. Many are members of the honor society, student council, and debate team. Program administrators try to attract students from all 50 states for each week's program.

Tuition: Presidential Classroom students pay $375 plus transportation costs for their week in Washington.

Additional Activities: The organization also offers "Federal Forum," two summer sessions for 60 to 100 teachers and college students that "parallel the experience of the [high-school] students," according to Ms. Whitaker. Both weeks are designed to expand the political knowledge of participants and to stimulate teachers to use the new information in their classes, she says. The cost per participant is approximately $400, and academic credit is available for college students.

For more information: Write or call Angie B. Whitaker, executive director, A Presidential Classroom for Young Americans, P.O. Box 19084, Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 638-2234.--A.B.

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