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[whitespace] WG High's 'New American' students go to Washington

Itinerary includes tours of city sights and meets with senators and reps

Willow Glen--Capitol Hill, a chance meeting will Bill Clinton and a week away from their parents. That's what 16 Willow Glen High School students have anticipated all semester.

The Program for New Americans offers immigrant students who have been in the U.S. for less than three years the opportunity to sightsee in Washington, D.C. The program is designed for English speakers who are still adjusting to American culture. In preparation for the trip, the students spent eight Saturdays taking American government classes. On May 21, they flew off to the nation's capitol to see in person what they learned from books.

The New Americans program is sponsored by the Close Up Foundation. Since 1971 the nonprofit education organization has sponsored programs across the U.S. It's goal is to teach students firsthand about local, state and national government.

Patricia Bolanos teaches the Close Up program. She insists that her students be college-bound, maintain a 3.0 GPA and have parents willing to get involved. This year, students even attended San Jose City Council meetings. Students are also required to complete 20 to 40 hours of community service before they jet off to Washington, D.C.

Bolanos says the program motivates students to set more goals for themselves. It enhances students' self-esteem and makes them great role models for other immigrants, Bolanos says.

Elizabeth Bekele, a 14-year-old from Ethiopia, plans to attend Stanford University someday. With dreams of becoming an engineer, Bekele says she's also toying with the idea of studying law. But right now, she's thinking about visiting the White House. "It's a great opportunity to learn more about the government," she said.

Mexican immigrant Georgina Alvalos packed lots of film for her trip. The 14-year-old says the program has taught her to work in groups and how to help the community. "I learned that history can be exciting and it can help me learn about this country," she said.

For the second year, WGHS is participating in the program. Its popularity is growing and immigrant students are putting in overtime so they can be recommended for the program.

The program is paid for through student fundraising, by Close Up and the San Jose Unified School District. The cost per student is $1,348, which includes lodging, sightseeing, meals and airfare.

In Washington, D.C., the WGHS students will meet hundreds of immigrants from participating high schools across the country. The students will tour the White House, Capitol Hill, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial and the Roosevelt Memorial. They'll also meet California's U.S. senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein. A visit with U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell is also listed on their itinerary.

Brian Li attended the pilot trip to Washington, D.C., last year. The 17-year-old recalls that his favorite part of the trip was meeting Campbell. "That was pretty cool," Li said. "He told us a lot about politics and what he plans on doing."
Chantal Lamers

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Web extra to the May 25-31, 2000 issue of Metro.

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