Crestwood Middle School eighth-grader Jathurshan Jasinthan, who emigrated from Sri Lanka, spent five busy days this summer in Washington, D.C., absorbing the big-city sights and spectacular monuments, and standing in awe in front of the White House.
“Some Americans haven’t seen the White House and I saw it up close!” said a still excited Jaturshan, an English-language learner at Kentwood Public Schools.
During the Close Up Washington Middle School Newcomers Program tour, he saw the Lincoln, Washington, Vietnam and World War II memorials, and learned about Congress, the Supreme Court and many other pieces of U.S. Government and history.
Now back in the classroom, he remembers what he saw, which he says makes studying history and government easier. “I learn about it before, so it’s easy to answer the question.”
Jathurshan and 14 other English-language-learners, many in the district’s Newcomer Program for recent immigrants, explored sites in the nation’s capitol, complete with big buildings, trollies and buses, museums and historical landmarks. The Kentwood students come from Congo, Thailand, Burma, Napal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Somalia.
“When I saw the White House, it was so beautiful, even more than the pictures,” said eighth-grader Myriam Angazo, who recently moved from Congo.
The students, who toured with a large group through the Close Up Washington, D.C. Program, were accompanied by Crestwood paraprofessional Lindsey Riemersma and ELL support teacher Grant Ringerwole. Close Up, started in 1971, is a non-profit program that works to educate and inspire young people to participate in democracy. Its New Americans Program gives recently immigrated students the knowledge, skills and confidence to become informed and active citizens.
“In social studies this is a huge thing because when they learn about the history of the U.S., they don’t have a lot to relate to. Now they have something to relate to, and they got to see those things. They thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” Ringerwole said.
The week included workshops on democracy and law, and visits to see the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights inside National Archives building. They toured the Smithsonian American History Museum, and watched lawmakers at work on Capitol Hill.
Students also played legislators during a mock congressional hearing.
Watching a musical, seeing a large city outside of Grand Rapids and eating at a food court was a big deal for many of the students too, Riemersma said.
“Even culturally, to see stuff we do all the time was really cool for them,” she said.