Local students follow parents to Washington

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Education: Historic trips continue for LA eighth graders

By Carol A. Clark

A group of Los Alamos Middle School students first jetted off to Washington, D.C. 31 years ago – creating an annual tradition that continues to this day.

“For the last three years, I have been taking the eighth grade children of some of the students who went on that first trip, so this is exciting to me,” said former Los Alamos Middle School teacher Roberta Cocking.

“After my retirement, parents begged me to continue hosting these trips, which I have done and plan to do until I can no longer find anyone willing to push my wheelchair around D.C.”

Cocking and Terry Quinn, also a former LAMS teacher, initiated these excursions to the nation’s capital in 1980. They are independent from school district activities.

Quinn moved to Hong Kong in the early 1990s where he teaches at the International School. Cocking retired in 2004 and lives in Phoenix, Ariz., where she continues to coordinate the D.C. trips for Los Alamos students.

“I went on the trip to Washington in 1985 and had such a wonderful time that I wanted my own child to have that same great experience,” Stephanie Archuleta said. “I sent my daughter Keanna Cohen in 2007 when she was in the eighth grade. She went on to be a U.S. Senate Youth Program youth delegate and I believe her trip with Mrs. Cocking had a significant impact on her interest in government and politics. She is a political science major at UC-Santa Barbara today.”

Each year, four students from Cocking’s group are selected through an essay contest to serve as the honor guard that lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. This coming April, students will place two wreaths – one at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the other at the Pentagon Memorial to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.

A sister and brother had the emotional experience of placing a wreath at the gravesite of their father who is buried at the tomb. Navy Pilot Kurt William Barich was killed flying in the line of duty on his way to Iraq in 1998.

“Five years ago my son Kyle went on the trip and it was three years ago for my daughter Jennifer,” Teddie Sue Mooday said. “They were each able to place a wreath at the tomb for their father. It was a closure thing for them because they were so young when he died. The trip was also a great learning experience for them and helped them develop a greater respect for our country.”  

Five daughters belonging to Orbry and Kathy Wright also have participated in the trip. Sarah Wright, 22, traveled with the group in 2003 and Margaret, 14, went last April.

“All of our daughters got something different out of the trip,” Orbry said. “They all learned something about American history and all seemed to appreciate American history more after having gone on the trip.”  

Matthew Maez recalls the highlight of his 1998 trip was meeting former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., on the steps of the U.S. Senate Building.

“It was probably one of the highlights of my life because I admire and respect him so much,” Maez said. “That trip exploring Washington, D.C. with my friends really opened up the world to me and sparked the passion I have today for politics – it was a life changing experience.”

The Washington trip has evolved through the years and students can now earn school credit for going on the trip and completing an on-line course.

“The cost for the school credit is included in the cost of the four-day trip, which runs about $1,500,” Cocking said. “Scholarships are available for students in need through Los Alamos National Bank and the World Strides/New Century Tours travel company. We’ve never turned a student away who wanted to go on the trip.”

Plenty of safeguards have been built into the trip through the years. There’s never been a discipline problem because the rules and behavior expectations are clearly defined before the trip gets underway, Cocking said. A charter bus transports the students to the Sunport in Albuquerque and another bus transports them and their chaperones sightseeing.

Night guards stand watch from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. in hotel hallways to ensure student safety.

“This annual trip sells itself by the fabulous reputation it has had for all of these decades,” Cocking said.

The deadline to lock in the upcoming spring trip is Oct. 15. Students can sign up as late as March, but the trip price may increase due to hikes in airline seat prices, she said.

For information, contact Cocking at 670-0679. To register for the trip, visit www.worldstrides.org and use ID #65383 or call 1-800-468-5899.