Woodburn High School students travel to Washington, D.C.
When Woodburn High School junior Gabriel Gutierrez stood before the Lincoln Memorial on a school trip in March, he said he could feel the impact from the Civil Rights movement 50 years ago.
Gutierrez stood in the footsteps of thousands of Civil Rights marchers who waited for Martin Luther King Jr. to give his "I Have a Dream Speech" one day in 1963.
"It was a long walk," Gutierrez said.
"I realized how long it was, and then I started realizing how many people there was that day," he said.
Gutierrez was with a group of 13 juniors from Woodburn High School who traveled to Washington D.C. for a weeklong trip last month with the Close Up program, a Washington D.C.-based organization which conducts tours of the nation's capital for students.
Woodburn's students were part of the school's migrant education program, which funded the trip, and were chosen for the program by each turning in a letter of reference and writing an essay.
During the four-day program, the Woodburn students met U.S. Congressional staff from Oregon and visited monuments including the United States Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
The Woodburn juniors met students from 10 other high schools as part of the program, and they held debate sessions to discuss current topics of controversy, including global warming, police body cameras and the merits of public schools versus charter schools.
Woodburn student Karen Santiago said she felt lucky to have the experience.
"Right before I left, a friend told me, 'That's so cool, I really wish I could do that,'" Santiago said.
During the debate sessions she had the opportunity to talk about the difference between public schools and charters.
"We don't really have charter schools here," Santiago said. "It was really interesting to meet someone who was from a charter school and to see how different their experience is from ours at a public school."
Santiago said after the trip she feels inspired to be bolder and take more risks.
Miguel Castillo said that monuments like the Martin Luther King Jr. and Lincoln memorials were awe-inspiring up close. He enjoyed visiting the National Air and Space Museum, where dozens of airplanes hang from the ceiling.
Castillo said the student debates got really interesting when conversations became heated.
"People were raising their voices after a while, when we were talking about police body cameras, and entrance visas was another one," he said.
Israel Augustine said he enjoyed debate with other students about whether police should wear body cameras, a heated topic since the police slaying of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.
"We had a debate about whether the body camera is gonna be helpful or not; I thought that we shouldn't have had it," Augustine said. "The police could just take some parts out of the footage, edit it out."
Augustine said the most memorable part of the trip was seeing the White House.
"I never thought I'd be there in front of it, looking right at it," Augustine said.
Gabriel Gutierrez said he learned about climate change during a debate session about whether taxpayers should shoulder the cost of damage caused by global warming.
"I learned a lot about how much climate change is affecting the world," he said. "I was not informed about that."
Gutierrez said an experience that stood out to him was meeting his roommates: two students from a town in Minnesota with a population of only about 400 people.
"They seemed so isolated, so left out of what's out there, and it made me feel more grateful for what I have," he said.
The juniors were accompanied by Valor Middle School Principal Eric Swenson, who was the district's instructional services program coordinator at the time, and Maggie Vasquez, the home school contact for the high school.
Swenson said the trip was a valuable opportunity for Woodburn students to find common ground with other high school students from around the country and visit the nation's historical institutions.
"I found that the students gained a sense of understanding, responsibility and empowerment that is central to our democracy," Swenson said.