By Denise Dick
Rayen Early College Middle School student Isabella Miller met an astronaut, visited museums, national monuments and memorials and made a lot of new friends.
Isabella, 13, was one of about 60 middle-school students from across the country to attend People to People Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., last September.
“We went to lots of places in D.C. and to Williamsburg and Jamestown,” she said.
The Capitol Building, two Smithsonian museums, the Holocaust museum, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World War II memorial are just a few of the sites the students visited on the six-day trip.
Isabella said she enjoyed the whole experience and can’t really point to a favorite part.
She was nominated by her seventh-grade math teacher, Maureen Donofrio.
“It was her desire to be the best that she could be and just her sense of adventure,” Donofrio said of why she nominated Isabella, who is now in eighth grade.
Each year, she nominates about 10 students, but Isabella is the first to go.
She almost didn’t.
After talking to a relative, Isabella’s mother, Rosemary Miller, considered not sending her daughter. The relative pointed out that for the $2,000 cost, the whole family could enjoy a trip to the nation’s capital.
She and Isabella’s father, Rob Wagner, talked about it. He visited Washington, D.C., on a class trip when he was in school.
“He said, ‘Arlington National Cemetery is something I will never forget,’” Rosemary Miller said. “And I thought, ‘What kind of time is she going to have with her 5-year-old brother in tow?’ Isabella is becoming a young woman.”
She thought her oldest daughter might benefit from a few days away from the family.
“I was sold,” Rosemary said. “I’m glad he talked me back into it.”
Participants woke about 5:30 a.m. each day of the trip, spent the day sightseeing and listening to speakers and returned to their hotel about 9 p.m.
They heard from a retired astronaut who made two space expeditions and a retired U.S. Air Force general who told them about President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who founded the People to People program.
Isabella says she’d recommend the program to other students and she hopes for another trip next year.
“She already has some fundraising ideas,” her mother said.
Isabella, an honor student at the school, also is a Girl Scout and involved in many community service projects including sending cookies to soldiers serving overseas and visiting nursing-home residents.