Through Seminars and Tours in Nation's Capital,High-School

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

As a government teacher at an American school in Paris more than a decade ago, Stephen A. Janger encountered in his U.S. students a distressing "lack of awareness" about their own political system. The situation bothered him, and he pondered what might be done to help young Americans better understand their government.

Upon his return to the U.S., Mr. Janger put one idea into action: He established the Close Up Foundation to enable groups of students from all over the country to come to the District of Columbia and see their government and leaders "close up."

In 1971, its first year, Close Up brought 550 high-school juniors and seniors to Washington to meet with Senators and Representatives, tour the capital, and discuss their experiences with students from other regions.

Mr. Janger's objective was to foster an "intense learning experience" for young people by plunging them into the midst of the workings of the federal system. He apparently succeeded, because those first enthusiastic student participants passed on their excitement about the program to others, who have swelled Close Up's ranks over the years.

Now in its 11th season, having booked as speakers three-quarters of the members of the House and half the members of the Senate, and having rented a total of 21,000 hotel rooms, purchased 54,000 transit tickets, and chartered 5,300 bus tours, Close Up celebrated in March the participation of its one-hundred-thousandth student, says Richard Horton, a Close Up staff member.

Close Up is one of a handful of organized school programs flourishing in the political atmosphere of Washington.

Others include Washington Workshops--the first effort of its kind, according to its founder, Leo S. Tonkin--and A Presidential Classroom for Young Americans, estab-lished in 1968. See related stories, these pages.

Speeches, Hearings, Tours

Thousands of other teen-agers also visit the U.S. capital each year under the aegis of their own teachers, schools, and families. But the Close Up groups, which visit Washington from November to May, are immediately recognizable by their large numbers, name tags, and jammed itineraries.

Each group's stay is packed with speeches, hearings, tours, and discussion groups. Like most visitors to the capital, they try to see everything, and most return home at week's end exhausted, according to their Close Up instructors.

"The thrust of the program is involvement," according to Mr. Janger, who is president of Close Up. "We try to infect [the students] with the idea that they are important, that they can make a difference. Most students go away with a different conception of Washington--that Washington is people."

Participants are by design exposed to a wide variety of people and perspectives during their visit and are urged to apply their critical faculties to what they see and hear in the political realm.

That is an approach the students seem to appreciate. "I'm open-minded and willing to learn anything," says Rod Binnion, a Close Up student from Hargrave High School in Huffman, Tex. "This is a good experience for me, to see how people live besides ourselves."

Past Close Up speakers, all of whom are unpaid, include former Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter; presidential advisors; Washington and White House news correspondents; officials of the State Department; and a host of others, according to Mr. Janger.

Each program week includes a day and a half on Capitol Hill. The rest of the time is spent visiting various government buildings to hear representatives from different federal departments discuss their work.

One evening is devoted to relaxation and entertainment, such as a play or a musical event. Friday afternoon is free time, when students can visit museums and galleries, shop in Georgetown, or attend Congressional hearings. The final event on Friday night is a dinner/dance at the hotel.

Serving as seminar leaders, discussion coordinators, tour guides, and sources of information, Close Up's "program instructors" spend most of their time with the students.

Program instructors, generally recent college graduates who have studied political science, are chosen on the basis of their sense of fairness and their ability to work with young people and handle the hectic pace of the program week.

Although most of them are young, they each oversee 18 students during the week and are responsible for discipline. Drinking, drugs, and visiting rooms of students of the opposite sex (each group generally takes up blocks of rooms in four hotels) are strictly forbidden and result in immediate expulsion from the program, according to Mr. Janger.

Parallel Teacher Program

While students are taking walking tours, listening to speeches, and sampling the fare at several of Washington's restaurants, teachers who accompany their students to Washington (one per school, paying their own way) participate in a program that parallels the student program. As an added benefit, they have the opportunity to compare notes with other teachers and to plan new curricular approaches for their schools based on their experiences in Washington, says Mr. Janger.

"It's a good program," says Donald Storey, a 10th grade social-studies teacher at Hargrave High School, who has participated in several Close Up programs. "I've learned something each time I've been here, just like the kids."

Led through their own program by "teacher-activity coordinators," the teachers are free to join the student program at any time. "It's an exciting opportunity to watch a whole range of your students grow," says Mr. Janger.

On Saturday morning, after six busy days in Washington, students head for area airports and bus terminals for the trip home.

Selection Procedure

Unlike its counterparts in the Washington area, Close Up structures its program weeks around "communities," inviting four from each of the 39 states involved in the program to visit the capital each week, according to Mr. Horton. Communities can be counties, cities, or an entire state, as in the case of Rhode Island, where participants come from almost every school system in the state. The communities are selected on the basis of interest, geographical diversity, ability to provide matching funds and to support a Close Up program in the future, and approval by Close Up's board of directors, according to Mr. Janger.

Within each community, individual schools and student groups devise their own selection and fund-raising methods.

Students from two communities are housed in each of the four hotels where Close Up students stay. "This gives students the opportunity to learn a lot about their own community as well as another one," Mr. Janger explains.

Close Up has few selection criteria for potential participants, other than a signed letter expressing interest. "This is not a leadership program," Mr. Janger says. "It's not just for student-council presidents. ... Students are accepted regardless of whether they get A's or D's."

Students with poor grades often benefit the most from the program, says Mr. Horton, who was a participating teacher before joining the Close Up staff. One year, he says, he brought a D student from his school in Delaware. "In just one week, this girl just blossomed," he adds.

Close Up makes special accommodations for blind, hearing-impaired, and handicapped students by providing sign-language interpreters and aides. This year, the foundation has also launched a "partners program" for students who have been involved with the criminal justice system--as delinquents, for example, or child-neglect victims--and are interested in learning more about the law.

Program Tuition

In addition to transportation costs, each Close Up student pays $448 for the week in Washington. Some scholarship aid is available through the Allen J. Ellender Fellowships authorized in 1972 by Congress for Close Up students. In most communities, at least half of the funds for fellowship grants for both students and teachers come from this program, which was established as a tribute to the late Senator Ellender of Louisiana, an ardent Close Up supporter.

In addition, Close Up approaches national foundations such as Gener-al Motors and Exxon to participate in its matching-funds program.

Locally, students approach merchants and community organizations for financial aid and often succeed in raising as much as 65 percent of their tuition, Close Up officials say. Donations from boards of education, parents, and others are added sources of tuition money.

Additional Programs

When Close Up is not in session during the summer and early fall, staff members prepare for the next year's program, raise funds, maintain contacts with speakers and other political figures, and review applications for new participants.

Close Up's staff of 150 also works throughout the year on five weekly television shows televised on the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN). These broadcasts, often involving live discussions among Close Up participants and public officials they meet during their Washington week, are wired into 2,000 high schools and 11 million homes nationwide.

The foundation also publishes a social-studies textbook called Perspectives and several other publications dealing with current issues.

More information on the Close Up Foundation is available from Stephen A. Janger, president, Close Up Foundation, 1235 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, Va. 22202, (703) 892-5400.

Vol. 01, Issue 32

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories