BRADENTON -- Eleven-year-old Rileigh packed his backpack last October for his trip to Washington, D.C. Problem is, the trip isn't scheduled until May.
Every morning and every night, he digs out his toothbrush, brushes his teeth and then packs the toothbrush back in his container, says his mom Shawn Hosier.
"He's really excited," Shawn said.
Rileigh is one of 22 fifth-graders at Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School who are scheduled to take the D.C. trip in May.
It's not the first time Orange-Ridge Bullock students have traveled out of state to learn about the nation's history. For the past two years, students have taken trips to Atlanta. Those trips were so successful, the staff decided to up the ante this year and take students to the nation's capital. The school board recently approved the three-day trip, a necessary step for any out-of-state overnight trips.
The students will be led by Nuris Fanning, a 2015 teacher of the year finalist who teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages at the Title I school.
For the last two years, Fanning has gotten funds from a Martin Luther King Jr. grant at the State College of Florida to take children to Atlanta during the MLK holiday. The students were able to learn about the nation's history before they traveled. After the second year, the school administrators wanted to challenge themselves to do something even bigger.
"It really came about from the principal," Fanning said. Maribeth Mason "put out the challenge and I said 'I'll take it on.'"
Fanning has helped organize trips for schoolchildren in Broward and Miami-Dade counties through Explore America, a division of Education First. The three-day trip is set up by the organization and a tour guide accompanies the group for the entire tour. Many of the tour guides are former teachers, said company spokesman Adam Binkleman, and the company tries to focus on "the moments between the monuments."
Washington is one of the most popular sites to visit, but Explore America has trips across the county, with field offices in many of those locations. The tour director stays with the traveling group for the duration of the trip.
Highlights of the trip include photo stops at the White House, the Washington Monuments, visits to Arlington National Cemetery, the FDR Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The trip costs about $1,340 a student. While that wasn't always a big issue for the schools Fanning worked with in Broward or Miami-Dade, it was a big obstacle for families at Orange Ridge, a Title I school with a high population of students living in poverty.
Starting with planning in August, an information session was open to all parents. If the parents can contribute $1,000 for their child for the trip, school officials promised they'd cover the balance per student. That meant some families were excluded, Fanning said, but families have been set up on a $100 per month payment plan.
"We'll continue to fund-raise to the very last month," Fanning said.
The school has already hosted a number of fundraising events, partnering with local businesses, hosting car washes, spaghetti dinners and proceeds from a Valentine's Day Dance will also benefit the trip.
"I just want them to have the opportunity to see outside their little world," Fanning said. "Sometimes all they know is their little neighborhood."
The trip is a dream come true for Shannon Argueta, whose 11-year-old son Aidan is part of the trip. Two years ago, Aidan wrote a letter to President Barack Obama and was ecstatic about getting a response. Shannon is a full-time political writer and said politics and government are a constant topic of conversation at home with Aidan and her husband, Alex.
"I thought it would be good for him to go and see where it all happens," Shannon said.
Shawn, Rileigh's mom, wishes she could go. She's never been. Her older son, a senior in high school, is also envious.
"What a learning experience," Shawn said. "There's no way we'd be able to go ourselves."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.