S P E C I A L F E A T U R E
The Ultimate Home School Field Trip
As home schoolers for the past seven years, my husband Kurt and I have experienced many wonderful education field trips with our two children, Amy and Jonathan. But nothing compares with the cross-country journey we set out on July 30, 1995. This trip would encompass all fifty states, cover more than 60,000 miles, and take over a year to complete.
I dont know exactly when it started, but, over the last few years, we began to sense God causing us to really look at what we were doing with our lives. Kurt worked tremendously long hours at our gourmet grocery store and was beginning to feel frustrated and saddened that his children were growing up so quicklyhe was missing out on too much of their lives. Night after night, we would lay awake talking into the wee hours of the morning. Through those conversations, we began to realize that all our success in business and all that we had achieved was actually taking away from what we believed our family should be.
We were home schooling and enjoying every minute of it, but because of Kurts work schedule, he could not be involved. We were a close knit family, but many nights we could not eat dinner together. Success had brought us many things, except time for our family. Although we believe there are seasons in life, and we were willing to live through them, this one had outlived its welcome. We knew we could always start another business after the children were grown, but we could not relive this time in their lives.
After many months of prayer, we felt God leading us in a new direction which would involve some hard choices. One was to sell our share in the business that we had worked so hard to build. Second, we would have to sell or rent our home which we had just finished building. What seemed like the right thing to do in our hearts would look like the craziest thing in the world to others. It would not be easy to explain why, but we just knew it was right.
We set a date of July 30 to begin our travels to the New England states where we could study the historical beginnings of our country during the fall, and then follow the growth southward to the Louisiana Purchase and westward expansion. This itinerary would put us in the southern states during the winter and northern states in the summer. We mapped out five 10-week tours, spending one week in each state, knowing that this would not be adequate time to see everything, but realizing it would give us an overview of what the state was like and allow us to visit many of the national parks and historical sites. We also set aside a few weeks to go back to Michigan and visit our families. The grandmas and grandpas would not have been happy with us for taking their grandchildren away for an entire year, so the breaks would be mandatory.
I began calling all fifty tourism bureaus requesting information packets about each state. Our mailman must have wondered when a week later, oversized packages began arriving day after day from every state in the Union. We poured over each of the packets, highlighting all the things we wanted to see and planning our route through each state. We also included Alaska and Hawaii, although we would have to fly because of the time schedule.
Throughout the year of planning and sharing our dream with others, we were encouraged by many to write a book about our whole experience. So Kurt and I agreed to each keep a journal that we could eventually combine into one book.
As we had experienced in previous travels, we knew that the children would need some specific goals throughout this lengthy excursion. To take our 12-year-old daughter away from friends and family for a year, she would need something to keep her mind focused during 56 weeks on the road. Knowing her abilities and wanting to challenge her further, we discussed the possibility of having her interview the governors of each state. Our purpose would be to learn about the state and its unique qualities along with their political process. What better way to do it than to go right to the people who make it work! Amy was excited about the idea and couldnt wait to start sending letters to the governors requesting interviews. We put together a packet of information and named our tour America Through the Eyes of a Student.
Just one week after mailing the packets, we received our first phone callfrom the governors office in Kentucky. They were very enthusiastic about our trip and said that Governor Brereton Jones was looking forward to meeting with Amy. When I hung up the phone and told the rest of the family who had called, they all shouted for joy! Over the next several days, other governors offices began calling with positive responses to Amys request. By the time we left in July, 35 governors had responded to our request.
We suddenly realized the opportunity Amy had before her. Never before had a student set out on a journey across America to learn about each state and its unique qualities with a goal to interview all 50 governors and, ultimately, the President. This would be something she had to share with other students. She agreed to keep a daily journal of everything she experienced throughout the year which would eventually become the basis for a book. She began working on the questions she wanted to ask each governor, such as: What is your states greatest need and how do you plan on taking care of it? What is the most important historical site in your state? Who most shaped your political career? She ended up with 10 questions and a few variations for each governor.
Jonathan, our seven-year-old, asked if he, too, could have a special project. So we came up with the idea of having him create an activity book about America. Each day as part of his school work, he would study the state we were in and formulate ideas for puzzles, mazes, and coloring pages from his own creativity. He was very excited about his new venture which he couldnt wait to start. I was thrilled because he would be learning without even realizing it!
We knew the only way we could travel through the states with the freedom and flexibility we neededand stay within our budget for housing and foodwould be to travel in an RV. We purchased a 34' Class A Bounder, which offered an entire basement underneath allowing us to carry everything we needed.
Now the real work would begin: packing! Really, the packing wasnt so bad, it was the sorting through every room in the house and deciding what to do with it allin just four weeks. At times when buried under piles of boxes, I would pause and think to myself, What in the world are we doing? But somehow, even through the craziness I found peace in my heart knowing that that was what God had called us to do. Up to this point we were undecided about what to do with our house, but shortly before we were to leave, the Lord provided a Christian family to lease it for the year. What a blessing!
Finally, July 30 came and we were off! Driving down the highway with the whole country in front of us was an exhilarating feeling.
During our first 10 weeks of exploring New England, we kept a very busy schedule. It was also a time of adjustment. For the first time in our lives, we would be spending 24 hours a day together in a space one-tenth the size of our home. It didnt take long to lay down some new rules!
The east coast had so much history to explore that we were exhausted at the end of every day. Our schedule consisted of school work every morning, sightseeing in the afternoons, and writing our journals every evening. We had so many things to write about, from the governors meetings to the sights we had seen and all the interesting people along the way. Knowing we would not be able to keep up this pace for the entire trip, we slowed down to a more sensible pace during the second tour.
Amys first interview was with Governor Angus King of Maine. We knew when we arrived at the Capitol Building that he was going to be easy for Amy to talk to when we watched him serve ice cream and sing songs to several classes of second graders who were visiting the Capitol. He was down to earth and very personable and seemed to really enjoy interacting with the students. We were all nervous wrecks, with butterflies in our stomachs and sweaty palms, and I was shaking so badly that I wondered if any of the pictures were going to turn out. Amy came through like a pro, as if she had done this before. After the interview was over, she said to us, That wasnt so bad; Ill be able to handle this. And she sure did. Even with throngs of media people that were at some of her interviews, she was poised and confident in what she was doing.
Before we left on our trip, I had two sweatshirts made with our America Through the Eyes of a Student logo emblazoned across the front. I thought that this would make a wonderful souvenir for the children. During each interview, Jonathan would sit beside Amy listening intently and waiting for his cue to lay the sweatshirts on the table. He was in charge of having each governor sign both of the sweatshirts, and, being the passive, silent type, he was happy as long as he didnt have to speak!
Although our purpose for meeting with the governors was not to promote home schooling, I believe that it must have had an impact on many of them, as well as on their staffs. There were times that Kurt and I would stand back in amazement as we watched our daughter conduct her interviews with heads of state, and we could see that God was using her in a very special way. Some of the governors offices set up media events and invited the local TV and radio stations to cover Amys interview with the governor. It was a great opportunity for the governors to show their interest in education. The national media also took an interest in our tour. CNN highlighted our story with a very positive spin on home schooling. We began receiving letters from people all around the country who were inspired by our journey and now are planning on taking similar trips, and others who were even motivated to begin home schooling their own children.
While in Hartford, Connecticut, Amy was asked to speak to a junior high school where she shared her cross country adventure with students. She presented a slide show of some of the places she had visited and told them what it was like to be schooled on the road. When we returned home from our first 10 week tour, a Traverse City public school also asked Amy to share her experiences with the students. Many teachers and staff were surprised at Amys ability to stand in front of a class of her peers and talk with such poise and fearlessness. I realized that, being home schooled, my daughter had never experienced peer pressure and, therefore, was not affected by it. A local Northern Michigan radio station asked us to call in once a month and keep their audience informed on our travels. It seems that many people shared our dream with us.
While in Washington, D.C., we had the privilege of attending a session of the House and the Senate and got a first hand look at our political process. What an awesome responsibility we have in choosing these men and women to represent what we stand for and the Christian principles that this nation was founded on!
As we drew near the end of our journey, Amy had just five governors left to meet and all of them were on their way to the Republican National Convention in San Diego, California. It didnt look like she was going to achieve her goaluntil we met with Governor Edward Schafer of North Dakota. He invited us to attend the convention and offered to share his pass with Amy so she could experience a convention. He said he would do what he could to help her meet the last five governors.
We were elated! Off to San Diego we went. When we arrived, we met a man in charge of the Governors Association and told him why we were there. He took us under his wing and gave us the necessary passes for all of us to attend the convention. He even took Amy back behind the podium one night to meet Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin right after his speech was over. We were also given passes into the governors suite at the convention center where Amy was able to visit with many of the governors and their families that she had previously met.
Governor David Beasley of South Carolina took a personal interest in helping Amy with her project. Knowing that she had only two governors left to meet, he escorted her onto the convention floor to introduce her to them. That was a moment of great emotion as Governor Beasley returned with Amyshe had completed her goal having all 50 governors participate in her project. The last night of the convention, she was determined to meet Bob Dole. We told her that it probably would not be possible because of the thousands of people who were attending the convention who all had the same desire, not to mention the mobs of security around him. But she would not take no for an answer and managed to work her way through the massive crowds to meet Bob Dole and had him sign the sweatshirts. It was quite a spectacular moment for her and a thrilling finale to the whole tour. Without the help of Governor Schafer and Governor Beasley, Amy would not have reached her goal. We are grateful to them for their personal assistance in Amys project, as well as to all the governors who participated. Although Amy has not been given the opportunity to meet with the President, she hasnt given up. If there is one thing we did learn on this trip, its that persistence pays off.
It has been an incredible journey and we faced challenges both in our relationships with each other and with God. There were many incredible experiencesfrom dining with a governor in his mansion to swimming with dolphins. Along the way, we met many home schooling families who shared our excitement. Our endurance was tested and our patience tried, but we do not regret a minute of the entire trip. We learned that America is like a giant quilt made from pieces of fabric from all around the world and sewn together by a piece of thread called the Constitution. What a fantastic country we live in, and what beauty God created for our pleasure! From the breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon to the incredible sight of a spewing volcano in Hawaii, to the pristine mountains of the Rockies, the awesomeness of God and His creation is clearly seen. Our family unit has been strengthened. The realization that God is in control and through Him all things are possible has been instilled in our hearts and minds.
Now that the trip is completed, Amy and Jonathan are finishing the manuscripts for their books and we are starting the search for a publisher. This too will be a new adventure! We hope to be able have the books out this fall. Kurt and I will continue working on our journals as our story is not quite over yet.
As far as what we will do next, we dont know what God has in store, but we have not stopped dreaming. The fact that we are home schooling opens the possibilities for what we can accomplish together as a family. We would love to continue traveling and have had offers from people from overseas whom we met on our trip to come and visit their countries. So who knows, maybe next it will be, Europe Through the Eyes of a Student!