How these teachers make once-in-lifetime school trip possible for all

A basic Internet search for information about eighth-grade field trips to Washington, D.C., will turn up dozens of school districts in Ohio that offer such a trip. Most average about three days long and the cost per individual student ranges anywhere from $600 to $1,000. In school districts where half or more students are living at poverty level and qualify for free or reduced lunch, this unique educational trip isn’t a possibility. In fact, most of these students have to remain behind while their higher income level classmates are able to participate in what many educators call a “life changing experience” at our nation’s capital.

Since the inception of the eighth-grade trip to Washington in 1979, the Preble Shawnee local school district has worked to ensure that every student who has a desire to go is able. Jennifer Taulbee, who is the director of special education for the district, is currently heading up the program, which involves about 100 students each year.

“I taught seventh grade for many years and became a chaperone for the eighth grade trip while I was teaching,” Taulbee said.

Two teachers, Larry Miller and Rod Shockey, organized the inaugural trip to Washington, D.C. for the district. Dan Buckholz took over the reins in 2000 when Taulbee began as a chaperone. She has been serving as the coordinator since 2009. Her friend and another teacher in the district, Stefanie Hurley, acts as a liaison between Taulbee and the students and ensures all eighth graders get the necessary information about the trip, which has traditionally taken place in May of each school year.

Taulbee, who received her undergraduate degree at Miami University and did graduate work at the University of Dayton, was initially intent on becoming a school principal. “I took a leap of faith and applied for the special education position,” she said. “The superintendent had confidence in my ability to learn the job.”

That confidence is representative of the “family” atmosphere in the small school district that Taulbee said has resulted in ongoing support, not only from staff and teachers, but also from the community, which helps ensure that all students that want to go on the annual trip to Washington, are able to go.

“Our district is right at about 50 percent free or reduced lunch,” Taulbee said. “But we don’t want financial issues to be a concern. We help everyone make payments and if we find a child who can’t afford it, we send out emails to staff and someone always comes through.”

Taulbee recognizes that her position in heading up this program is unique, especially since she is an administrator and no longer teaching, but she said she feels “lucky” to be in a position to help provide for the students in this way.

“The kids all get powerful life lessons when they go to D.C., and to me that’s priceless,” she said. “I’ve seen some develop a desire to go into the military and they see our nation’s history up close and personal. It brings their textbooks to life.”

Schools are able to plan their own itineraries for these trips and Taulbee has continued the tradition of including visits to all memorials, the Smithsonian and Holocaust museums, Mount Vernon, the national cathedral and national archives and the capitol building.

“We also take in a ballgame and tour the White House if we can get in,” Taulbee said. “We recently added Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House. We are moving the entire time.”

The majority of students in each 8th grade class goes on the three day trip, with only a few bowing out because they prefer not to travel that far from home. “We give everyone an opportunity to raise the money or even fill out applications for scholarships,” Taulbee said. “The Gratis Eagles have been very generous in providing scholarships for our children that have a financial need. We honestly would not be able to provide scholarships on an annual basis without support from them and others.”

For more information on how to support the eighth-graders, call Taulbee at 937-733-1345.

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