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Take Note: Dream comes to life

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Last week, the National Park Foundation, a nonprofit group affiliated with the U.S. National Park Service, doled out a park-partnership award for a project initiated by six students from Scottsdale, Ariz.

The recipients were the American Federation of Teachers Educational Foundation and the Lincoln Memorial Museum National Youth Committee, which started after six students from Saguaro High School in Scottsdale visited Washington in 1989. The students visited the nation's capital under the aegis of the Close Up Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that each year brings students from roughly 3,000 high schools across the country to Washington for a look at how government works.

The Scottsdale Six, as their hometown press dubbed them, got an especially intense lesson.

When the group visited the Lincoln Memorial, the students, like many had done before them, asked why nothing marked the place where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963.

"I really didn't have a good answer for them," said John Calvin, who teaches American history and has for years led the school's trips to Washington.

Led by the Scottsdale Six, students started lobbying their national representatives and the National Park Service. With help from the American Federation of Teachers and Mr. Calvin, they launched a national fund-raising campaign--"Pennies Can Make a Monumental Difference"--that brought in about $62,000.

Though their original plan to build a bronze plaque cast from collected pennies was quashed--via an obscure federal law--the students' gumption was not.

They persuaded the park service to let 17 students from across the country help design a mini-museum in the memorial's basement. And they flew back to Washington to knock on doors on Capitol Hill, eventually persuading Congress to pay for the rest of the $360,000 project.

"The Legacy of Lincoln" exhibit opened last fall. It features photos and a small theater with film clips from some of the protests and ceremonies that have taken place at the memorial.

Dr. King, finally, has a place there. And the students' activism lives on in a service-learning class they pushed to have adopted as an elective credit.

"We wanted to live the legacy," Mr. Calvin said. "Not just build it and walk away."

--Lynn Schnaiberg

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