MATTOON — Sixteen Mattoon High School students embarked on a three-day trip to Washington, D.C. to become part of history.

The educational journey was led by MHS Social Science teacher McLain Schaefer, who took his students on a trip of a lifetime to witness President Barack Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 21.

“The opportunity presented itself and I thought it would be a cool trip to take,” Schaefer said. “It brings our history books to life and it’s important to be part of that history.”

Schaefer said the opportunity came about through WorldStrides, a student travel organization whose mission is “Enriching students’ lives through experiential travel.”

According to the WorldStrides website: “We strive to achieve this mission by extending education into the worldwide classroom and providing unique opportunities for learning through seeing, experiencing, and interacting.”

Schaefer said he received an email from WorldStrides and thought it was the perfect opportunity for his students, with the presidential inauguration approaching. Planning for the trip started in August.

“Whether you’re a fan of the president or not, it was still something to talk about and an opportunity to be part of history,” Schaefer said.

A majority of the students had never been to Washington, D.C. before.

During the trip, MHS students didn’t just attend the president’s inauguration — they had a whole itinerary of historical places to visit.

Some of the landmarks the students explored on their three day trip included the White House, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the National WWII Memorial, among many others.

Tyler Smith, a freshman, said his favorite part about the trip was going to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, but he said he also enjoyed the inauguration.

“It was the prime time to go on the trip,” Smith said. “We had a good view of the inauguration. We were within half a mile of the stage and right next to the jumbotron.”

Smith said his parents encouraged him to go on the trip and he said he figured this would be the best time to go to Washington, D.C. to attend the inauguration.

However, Smith said he didn’t enjoy the huge crowds of people that came with attending the inauguration.

“We had to wait for a long time and we fought our way through millions of people,” Smith said. “In the crowd you’re literally standing-room-only and are shoulder-to-shoulder with the people around you.”

Megan Heath, a sophomore, said even though she went to D.C. for Obama’s inauguration, her favorite part of the trip was going to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

“All the aspects of the trip interested me,” Heath said. “I wouldn’t be able to do this in any other situation.”

Throughout the three-day visit, Schaefer and his students shared their experiences through the Mattoon school district’s new Facebook page.

“As the ceremony started the students and myself began to realize how important this day really was,” Schaefer said via Facebook. “The feeling of being part of history and thinking of all the people who stood where we stood in years past to witness the President of this great country vow to uphold the Constitution and take care of the American people and the rights and freedoms that we stand for is truly something special and amazing.”

This was the first trip Schaefer had organized for his class and he said he plans to continue this new-found tradition for future MHS students.

Contact Bilharz at or 217-238-6839.

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