Larry Choiunard leading final Close Up trip to Washington

Apr 30, 2013 By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

We usually reserve this space for sports stories and opinions. But equally important in many students' high school careers (and college careers, for that matter) is their participation in a wide array of activities. Riverton High School programs such as band, speech, journalism, art, student council, music, FBLA, Key Club and others are every bit as important in developing young lives as the athletic activities that get more ink week after week.

And for nearly 800 RHS students over the last 30 years, one teacher has raised money, planned, researched and been the committed, reliable leader of Close Up, the annual opportunity for our high school students to travel to Washington, D.C., to learn about our nation, our government and themselves.

Social studies teacher Larry Chouinard is in Washington today. It's his 30th and final year of leading and teaching our kids that if they become involved, they can make a difference and be a positive influence on our community, state and nation.

"Democracy is not a spectator sport. When our kids come here, they begin to realize that they are about as good as anybody else in the country. They take a back seat to nobody as far as the issues, their beliefs and the ideas they put out," Chouinard said from D.C. Sunday.

Students traveling with Chouinard look forward most to seeing the national monuments, including standing on the exact spot where Martin Luther King gave his famous 'I Have A Dream' speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. With the support of Close Up instructors, students learn more about our nation's capital and history through real, hands-on, experience than tourists can.

"During the week, they realize that it is not easy building a democracy. There are a lot of challenges," Chouinard said.

And the learning is not just for students. Chouinard, a former Close Up National Teacher of the Year, attends new seminars annually that, he realizes, help him be a better teacher in his classroom.

Today, Chouinard and his students are at the National Archives seeing and learning about the real documents that most of us have only read about.

Chouinard is quick to point out that the support he has received from our community for Close Up has been tremendous, and that kids are not turned away from the program if they meet minimum eligibility requirements.

Both Larry Chouinard and his wife, Mary Jo, the principal at Rendezvous Elementary School in Riverton, are retiring this year.

"It's going to be really hard. It's the end of the line," Chouinard said of his final trip to D.C.

Former Harvard professor Cornell West said, "We have to recognize that there cannot be relationships unless there is commitment, unless there is loyalty, unless there is love, patience, persistence."

For part of four decades, we have been blessed that Larry Chouinard has been that committed leader for our kids in an activity that has brought together athletes, speech kids, music kids, art kids, average students and high achievers and allowed them to create new, life-lasting relationships and an appreciation for what it means to be an involved citizen.

Our community is better because of Chouinard's commitment.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!

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