For the eighth year in a row, Seymour Middle School eighth-graders recently had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C.

But this trip was different because going with them for the first time were eighth-graders from Brownstown Central Middle School.

The two Jackson County schools that are 10 miles apart normally consider themselves rivals, but for this occasion, they were all one unit.

Two of the buses had a mix of Seymour and Brownstown students and teachers, while the other two buses were all Seymour. There were 51 students and four chaperones from Brownstown and 107 students and 14 chaperones from Seymour.

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“I was on one of the mixed buses, and I made a lot of new friends just from sitting on the bus and talking with them or walking around and getting to interact with them,” Seymour eighth-grader Mallory Moore said.

Brownstown eighth-graders Nathan Koch and Rehgen Stuckwisch and Seymour eighth-grader Owen Marshall all said they know kids from the other school through sports.

“Usually, they are our rival, they are the next town over, and it was different just to be friends with them for once instead of competing against them,” Stuckwisch said.

Doug McClure used to be the principal at Seymour Middle School and went on several trips to the nation’s capital. He was hired at Brownstown two years ago, but that school didn’t do an eighth-grade trip.

After talking to school officials and receiving approval from both school boards, the combined trip came to fruition.

Sherri Holt Price, a language arts teacher at Seymour, has coordinated the trip for the past eight years. The March a year before going, she begins working with Brightspark Travel to develop the trip itinerary.

Both schools conducted callout meetings at the beginning of the school year and then started fundraising. For each student, the trip cost $785.

Price said they typically do three fundraisers, and the students receive money based on what they sell. She also sought out sponsors to support the different colored T-shirts the group wore each day.

Clark Smith, a math teacher at Brownstown, said the school did one fundraiser, and students found other ways to raise money, including babysitting, mowing yards or asking family members for donations.

The four buses left Seymour Middle School on a late Wednesday afternoon and drove through the night. Once the group arrived Thursday morning, they went straight into sightseeing. They had all day Thursday, Friday and Saturday to visit museums, memorials and buildings before traveling back home overnight.

One highlight was four students — Kendra McCory from Brownstown and Caleb Elliott, Ella Wingler and Madelynn Burns from Seymour — were chosen to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.

Brownstown eighth-grader Jacob Blann said that was his favorite part of the trip.

“It was just really moving to see all of the tombstones and the changing of the guard,” he said. “It doesn’t really hit you until you see it.”

While it was Blann’s first time in Washington, D.C., Koch said he had been there with his family three times. This time, though, he saw new memorials and how the city had changed.

“The Capitol building was pretty cool,” Koch said. “You got a tour of it, and we went in this room with a bunch of statues, and you could see the dome. The dome was cool.”

Stuckwisch said she also liked the National Statuary Hall Collection in the Capitol.

“Each state has two people, and I had never heard about them,” she said. “I liked just getting to know a little bit of information about stuff like that, just the things you saw and how the history has gone on and all of the different things that have happened and taken place.”

One day, the group ventured outside of the city to visit George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon, Virginia. Marshall said that was his favorite part of the trip.

Of all of the memorials the students visited, Moore said her favorite was the Pentagon Memorial, which features benches honoring those who lost their lives when a plane crashed into the building during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“I learned a lot of things that I didn’t know about the different wars because of the different monuments and memorials we got to see,” she said. “I realize now how people lost their lives in stuff like this to help us for our freedom. I took a lot away from that.”

Smith said the Pentagon Memorial stood out because he was in eighth grade when that attack happened.

“It was really, really moving just to see the number of benches,” he said. “It just took me back to when I was in eighth grade. These kids don’t remember 9/11, but I do, and I was their age. To really put a picture with it and stand where it happened, it really brought back a lot of memories.”

Price said she always likes to see the students’ reactions, especially those visiting Washington, D.C., for the first time.

“You drive into D.C. on Thursday morning and they see these big monuments and their eyes bug out and they are like, ‘Oh wow!,’” she said. “For me, the reward is watching the kids and seeing them learn things and history coming to life for them.”

The group did a lot during the trip, but Smith said there was still a lot they didn’t see.

“I think you’ll see a lot of them begging their parents to go to D.C. instead of going to the beach because they want to go back,” he said. “You could spend three days at the Smithsonian. You could spend a day just looking at all of the memorials. We went to the Newseum, which is the history of the news, and we were there for an hour, and we could have spent six hours there.”

This was Smith’s last year at the middle school because he has been accepted into the Indiana University Kelley School of Business to pursue his Master of Business Administration.

A three-month internship is in the middle of that 21-month program, and he said he would love to do that in Washington, D.C.

“As I transition out, I’m not exactly sure what I want to do, but now that I’ve been to D.C. twice, I’ve really fallen in love with it, and I think I finally found my dream job — working on Capitol Hill,” he said.

Several of the students said they are ready to go back to D.C., too.

“It would be nice to go back and you could see stuff at your own pace. Some of the things, you would want to spend more time at,” Marshall said.

“That’s something I would want to go back to. Even though you’ve seen it once, I want to go see it again,” Stuckwisch said.

“I miss it,” Moore said. “We got back, and I was like, ‘I would love to go back again.’ It was so much fun.”

Smith said there were some Brownstown kids who regretted not going after talking to the students who went.

“If you talk to a kid that went and a kid that didn’t, they just have this newfound vision,” he said. “What they’ve heard about, what they’ve seen in their head, now they have felt it physically. They’ve walked where some of the greatest Americans have ever been. They’ve seen the sacrifices that some of the greatest Americans have given for their freedoms. It really made them think about, ‘Oh, I am pretty lucky to live in a free society, to live in America.’ I think they grew up really quickly.”

Both schools plan to come together for the trip again next year and make it a tradition.

“It went very well,” Price said. “For me, I couldn’t tell the Brownstown kids from the Seymour kids. We were just all together. It was a very good experience. I was extremely proud of the kids of Jackson County. They represented Seymour, Brownstown and Jackson County. They did an excellent job.”

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.