It’s been two weeks since a group of eighth graders at St. Mary’s-Colgan traveled to the east coast and explored historical sites in four states.

They are still talking about it.

“I loved it,” Taylor Wixson said. “I would go on it a thousand more times if I had the chance.”

Malia Orender agreed.

“Same,” she said. “I love all the people I met and wish I could see them more often.”

Seven students from the middle school, roomed and toured with roughly 150 students from the four-state area, Kentucky and New York for a free, all-inclusive trip to Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and D.C. The trip was paid for by the 5-Mile Children’s Foundation, an organization in Oklahoma aimed at providing a hands-on educational experience.

This was the first time students at St. Mary’s went on the foundation’s annual trip. But, for Dennis Burke, director of school advancement, the tour is part of his year.

Burke has done the tour roughly 16 times. He heard about the opportunity while working at a school in Riverton, Kansas.

His working relationship with the foundation opened the door for St. Mary’s students to make the 10-day trip, which spanned from Dec. 4 to Dec. 14.

The 26-hour bus ride started in Joplin, where St. Mary’s students met with other Midwest schools embarking on the trip.

Under Burke’s supervision, the students visited the White House, Independence Hall and even strolled on the battlefield at Gettysburg — to name a few.

Burke, a former history teacher, said no two trips are the same. He has seen history unfold over the years. In particular, Burke had an account of visiting Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation in Virginia.

DNA technology proved a rumor that Jefferson had children with his slave, Sally Hemings. Eventually, the plantation’s caretakers made the property’s cemetery open to Hemings and Jefferson’s children.

Burke wanted the students to enjoy the history, but hoped the trip showed them how "unique" the U.S. is.

“No other nation on earth has ever formed its government based on the right of individuals,” Burke said. “We also throw in a religious element in the fact that we are also a nation founded on the principles that people should be able to pursue their faith, freely.”

The students went to 5-mile in November where they gained a better understanding of our country's roots.

“(My favorite) was probably the Lincoln Memorial,” Wixson said.

Orender’s favorite was “all of the Washington D.C. memorials.”

Students were selected based on academics, conduct, teacher referral and an interview. The students were given points for each category, with the top seven being chosen for the trip. The point system was recommended by the foundation.

The trip included guided tours, custom jacket, two hoodies, a digital camera for each student and even a DVD shot by a professional videographer, with interviews and a recap of the adventure.

“We had a great response from people in the parish,” said Jessica Nicholson, communications and marketing coordinator. “It is something the schools are excited about for the future.”

— Michael Stavola is a staff writer at The Morning Sun. He can be emailed at mstavola@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @MichaelStavola1.