High school seniors off to D.C.

Delegation from Ely, Northeast Range embarks on whirlwind visit

by Tom Coombe -

It’s not a typical long weekend for 40 area high school seniors.
While there’s time away from school, the spring “break” includes 15-hour days, enough walking to wear out a pair of shoes and visits to some of the nation’s most historic sites.
The occasion is the annual senior trip to Washington, D.C., a staple on Ely’s high school calendar for more than two decades and fast becoming one at neighboring Northeast Range High School as well.
Late Thursday night, a bus carrying 29 high school seniors from Ely, 11 more from Northeast Range, and adult chaperones left for the Twin Cities.
It was the first part of a journey that continued Friday morning, first at the airport in the Twin Cities and then on to Washington, D.C. That’s where the group, many functioning with little sleep, began a five-day whirlwind tour of the nation’s capital.
Led by Frank Ivancich, a longtime Ely social studies instructor, the trip started in 1995 and has continued ever since, with Northeast Range joining in 2015.
Just two Northeast Range seniors went on the first trip and five went along in 2016, but that number jumped to double digits this spring as tales of previous trips spread across the hallways at the Babbitt school.
“It’s definitely growing,” said Aaron Donais, a social studies teacher at Northeast Range who has taken students from Babbitt each year. “I know the first two seniors who went both still talk about it and their parents both mention it pretty much every time I see them.”
A visit to the U.S. Capitol is in store on Tuesday, the final leg of the tour, but the Ely and Northeast Range students will have seen much of what D.C. has to offer before then.
An event-filled trip that starts with early-morning wakeup calls and lasts well into the evening includes trips to Mount Vernon, Ford’s Theatre, Embassy Row and the National Cathedral.
On Saturday night, the contingent will take in the performance of “Shear Madness” at the Kennedy Center.
Museums are a centerpiece of the tour, and the group will take in Natural History and American History museums as well as the Smithsonian.
The group will also visit the Supreme Court building and go to many of the city’s monuments and memorials, including the World War II Memorial.
An evening illuminated monument tour is among the highlights, and two of the most solemn moments are the stop at Arlington National Cemetery and watching the changing of the guard. and the Holocaust Museum.
The soon-to-be high school graduates will also go beyond D.C, traveling to the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Penn. That was a popular addition to the lineup several years ago and remains today.
Jeff Anderson, a 1995 Ely graduate, helped convince Ivancich to organize a trip to D.C. during his senior year.
Anderson has taken every trip since, serving as a tour guide of sorts, and using his political connections to help line up memorable visits for the local students.
Since graduating from Ely, Anderson has had his own career in politics, serving on the city council in Duluth, running for Congress, organizing numerous campaigns and now employed as an aide to U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D).
The local students are set to meet with Nolan and get a capitol tour from their Congressman Tuesday.
Also in the works are possible visits and question and answer sessions with both of Minnesota’s sitting senators - Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.
In the last 20-plus years, Ely students have met with politicians ranging from Chip Cravaack and Mark Dayton to the late Rod Grams, Paul Wellstone and Jim Oberstar.
Stops at several other D.C. landmarks, including a photo opportunity outside the White House, are also in the works before the group leaves Washington late Tuesday.
Students pay roughly $1,025 apiece for airfare, hotel, some meals and admission to the various museums, and many of the participants have taken part in fundraising events to help defray their costs.
The group will come back with memories, perhaps a better sense of history and the workings of U.S. government, and perhaps an appreciation for D.C., organizers hope.
“You talk to the kids and they say they wish they had more time to take everything in,” said Donais. “They’re definitely wiped out at the end of the day. You never hear anyone say that they didn’t feel it was worth it.”
Adult chaperones include two longtime Ely teachers - current industrial education instructor Rob Simonich and retired English teacher Janet Bigelow.