By Keely Larson EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – On May 5, Big Sky School District art teacher Megan Buecking and history teacher Tony Coppola will take 25 eighth grade Ophir Middle School students to Washington D.C. where they will visit national landmarks and institutions, and participate in a series of workshops.

The annual, weeklong trip to D.C. started fifteen years ago, and this year marks Coppola’s fifth time leading it. In prior years the trip has focused primarily on history and civic studies, but this year an artistic element was added.

Buecking saw an opportunity to collaborate across disciplines, and decided to plan her art curriculum around the D.C. trip, with emphasis on the students’ visit to the National Gallery of Art.

Buecking selected a series of master artists, such as Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci, then built a lesson around the style and works of each artist. The students then chose a painter whose work is currently represented in the National Gallery of Art, researched the artist’s style and technique, and created an original piece inspired by what they had learned.

During their visit to the museum, the students will find and be photographed with the painting that inspired their project. Samantha Suazo, one of the students anticipating the trip, drew inspiration from late 19th century French painter Albert Marquet. Suazo said she wanted to “think outside of the box” and not exactly copy the painter but put her own ideas into it.

“It was so much fun [and] awesome to be able to learn something new,” she said.

Nikoli Cunningham shows off the artwork he made as part of the cross-disciplinary curriculum leading up to the annual eighth grade trip to D.C.

The field trip is sponsored by Close Up, a Washington-based organization dedicated to educating young people about their rights and responsibilities as citizens in a democratic society. The trip programming is structured, research oriented, and focused on improving students’ public speaking abilities.

The students will also participate in a variety of recreational activities, including visiting George Washington’s Mount Vernon mansion and attending a baseball game. Soon after their arrival, the students will be assigned a “program buddy” from a different part of the country. Since the Close Up trips began in 1971, the organization has brought more than 850,000 students to explore the nation’s capital and connect with students from various regions.

The remainder of the week consists of Close Up workshops and outings that include a tour of Capitol Hill, sitting in on a congressional session, meeting Montana Sen. Jon Tester, and visits to the National Archives and a diverse assortment of museums.

Students will also get to see D.C.’s monuments and memorials lit up at night, a new addition to the itinerary. Buecking said that all of this exposure has a profound impact on the students, and that, “kids talk about it for years [after].”

Suazo said she’s most looking forward to seeing the monuments that represent the United States and hopes to be inspired to make a change in the world.

As opposed to Expedition Yellowstone, which immerses Ophir fourth graders in the wonders of the national park in their own backyard, the trip to D.C. exposes students to a bustling metropolis.

“It gets kids out of their ‘Big Sky bubble,’” Coppola said.

Both Buecking and Coppola expressed gratitude for the support of the Big Sky community that came in the form of many donations from individuals, local businesses and the PTO Pie Auction. The students also actively raised funds for the trip through several events and sales.