Vivian N. Revilla, a senior from Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in Miami, seemed to be savoring the opportunity last week to tour the nation’s capital with the Close Up Foundation. “I have a dream,” she grandly quoted Martin Luther King Jr., as her tour group approached the Lincoln Memorial.
At a U.S. Senate building shut for months because of anthrax, aides greet students from two high schools in Canton, Mich. Participation in the schools’ trip to Washington fell by two- thirds this year.
When the group swung by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the 18-year- old fingered some of the names of people engraved in the memorial’s wall. She expressed her opinion during a lively discussion led by a Close Up staff member after visits to the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam memorial about what kinds of situations justify a country’s going to war.
“That was a great conversation,” she commented to no one in particular as the group broke apart for some free time.
Ms. Revilla said she was glad her parents had permitted her to travel to Washington, even though they harbored some qualms about it.
“This year, parents were worried because of everything that happened,” she said. “It’s because of September 11. They didn’t want us to get blown up.”
Eighty seniors from Our Lady of Lourdes, a Roman Catholic school for girls, joined the Alexandria, Va.-based Close Up Foundation’s program this school year, down from 120 seniors who participated last year.
Such a drop in enrollment in the Close Up program has been common among schools this year because of parents’ and school officials’ safety concerns in the wake of the terrorist attacks last fall, said Charles M. Tampio, Close Up’s vice president for programs. Before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon just outside Washington, the organization had expected to receive 22,000 high school students and teachers this school year. Now, it’s projecting it will receive 14,000—a drop of more than one-third.
For 30 years, the nonprofit organization has guided high school students on weeklong educational tours of Washington’s policymaking world. The tours include meetings with members of Congress, media strategists, and lobbyists, as well as visits to national monuments.
To cut operating costs in response to this year’s drop in enrollment, Close Up has laid off 40 of its 140 staff members and chopped its budget by about a third, Mr. Tampio said.
“Teachers and students make up their minds to come to Washington in the fall,” he explained. “That’s the window. What hurt us the hardest was the anthrax scare [that followed the terrorist attacks] this fall. While that’s now diminished, you can’t open that window again.”
He said enrollment has been deeply affected by some school boards’ bans on field trips that followed the September attacks. A number of such bans have since been lifted, though travel companies report that some schools are scheduling trips to the American heartland instead of the East Coast. (“Districts Starting to Loosen Student Travel Bans,” Feb. 6, 2002.)
The Washington Workshop Foundation, a for-profit corporation that also provides educational experiences for youths in the nation’s capital, has had a drop in registration similar to that of the Close Up Foundation. It has 500 students registered for this year’s junior high program, down from 800 the previous year.
“Parents are concerned about safety in Washington,” said Sharon E. Sievers, the director of Washington Workshop’s junior high program. “School boards have acted to that effect and limited trips out of state and to Washington, particularly for younger children.”
Ms. Sievers said the Washington Workshop has only three staff members and hasn’t laid anyone off.
Persian Gulf Dip
The Close Up and Washington Workshop foundations last experienced significant decreases in registrations during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
That year, Close Up had a 10 percent dip in enrollment, which it absorbed by hiring fewer staff members as it geared up for its touring season.
Mr. Tampio expects that some of the organization’s current enrollment loss will be recovered next year. At the same time, Close Up has launched promotional activities to assure school officials that Washington is safe.
For example, it recently joined with United Airlines, a hotel in Arlington, Va., and the Virginia Tourism Commission to give 60 superintendents a free, two-day tour of Washington.
Mr. Tampio said the quality of the Close Up program is as good as ever, because many Washington officials and policymakers seem to be particularly interested in talking with young people in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Close Up recently recruited Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, for example, to speak to a group of students.
“There’s a realization that one of the solutions to the current crisis is for all Americans, and particularly young Americans, to be civically engaged and have a greater sense of global citizenship,” Mr. Tampio said.
One Washington educational program for students, Presidential Classroom, hasn’t seen a decline in enrollment.
Jack Buechner, the president and chief executive officer of Presidential Classroom, said he believes the nonprofit organization has maintained its student-registration levels because of how it recruits participants.
Rather than market itself through teachers, who get a group of students together from a particular school, as the Close Up Foundation does, Presidential Classroom targets student groups or individual students. As a result, its activities haven’t typically been classified as school field trips, and thus haven’t been banned by school boards, he said.
Presidential Classroom guides about 5,000 high school students around Washington each year in weeklong civics tours that sometimes have a particular focus, such as science and technology.
Mr. Buechner said many students who have come to Washington this school year have commented, though, they’ve had at least one parent who was concerned about whether they would be safe touring the capital city.
And more parents are avoiding putting their children on airplanes than in the past, he said.
“We’ve had a lot of people taking trains and driving,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2002 edition of Education Week as Capital Programs Retrench After Terror Attacks