Monday, April 2, 2001

Students take trip
inside the Beltway

By Treena Shapiro

Instead of spending spring break at the beach, Farrington High School senior Archie Mariano bundled up in sweaters and jackets and got involved in government.

As one of 33 Hawaii participants in the Close Up Foundation program, Mariano spent last week in Washington, D.C., hanging out on Capitol Hill with Hawaii's congressional delegation, attending a summit meeting, watching Congress take a vote on campaign tax reform and simulating El Salvador's government.

"I got to see how government works," he said. "I found it insightful."

The goal of the Close Up Foundation is to bring high school students from across the country to Washington to learn about current events and government from the inside, encouraging them to get involved in the future.

"We want to teach them that one person can make a difference," said the foundation's spokesman, Dick Horton.

Twenty-thousand students will participate in the program this year, 200 from Hawaii, Horton said.

Elizabeth Shiraki, a Farrington English teacher, said that bringing 12 students to Washington involved months of fund raising, which is why the school has not participated in the program for several years. Even with two scholarships from Close Up and a $350 donation for each student from the Farrington Alumni Community Foundation, students still had to raise $15,000 by selling "everything," washing cars and doing yardwork.

By the time everything was in place, Shiraki felt like just getting the trip over with, "but after 24 hours I was thinking about next year," she said. "It's a great program."

Mariano said he plans to encourage underclassmen to participate in the program. Close Up has given him a better appreciation for what the government does, particularly through simulating the government of El Salvador.

Other students' governments were overthrown because the countries were not doing well, but "compared to the rest, I think we did a pretty good job." The culmination of the exercise was visiting the Ecuadorian Embassy and meeting with the ambassador.

As the first person in his family to visit Washington, Mariano said he has some tips to offer them if they ever do make the trip.

"Don't go to visit just for the fun of it. It's not just for seeing famous sights, but for getting involved in them or getting to know what goes on in Washington, D.C., and seeing the great people around here."

He said he is coming away with better leadership skills, and he thinks he is become more goal-oriented and, as he prepares to attend college in the fall, more focused on his education.

But Mariano said visiting the capital also helped him appreciate what Hawaii has to offer. After getting used to the cold, the only thing Mariano missed was rice.

He said he was able to have rice at a Chinese restaurant, but "it wasn't quite the same as Hawaii."

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