A recent field trip to the Czechoslovakian Embassy was an enlightening and exciting experience for the sixth graders at Janney Elementary School in far Northwest. That trip, though, is minor compared to the field trip that 16 members of the class will take tomorrow when they fly to the communist country.
The overseas trip was arranged earlier this year by the D.C. schools' Embassy Adoption Program. Students washed cars, baby-sat and begged their parents to help them raise the $1,000 each needed to pay for the 10-day tour.
"This is really going to be a great educational experience. We'll get to learn more than we ever could by reading books," said Anne Clinton. The group will be chaperoned by sixth grade teacher Ursula Cossel and a parent.
Other students said that after visiting Czechoslovakia, a Soviet bloc country, they expect to gain a deeper appreciation for the rights they have as Americans.
Under the embassy adoption program, 43 embassies have formed relationships with sixth grade classes at elementary schools throughout the city, offering lectures, visits to embassies and trips to ethnic restaurants in town.
This is the first time in the history of the D.C. program that a group of elementary students have been invited by embassy officials to visit their home country, said Susan Deerin, coordinator of the adoption program, which started in 1975.
The trip is part of an increasing effort by school and city officials to ensure that students take advantage of the many resources available in the District's growing international community.
Washington has long been an international city, with its diplomatic corps and more than 155 foreign embassies, but recent efforts by school officials and Mayor Marion Barry represent a new attempt to relate to foreign dignitaries.
As a result, students have visited countries in Europe and the Far East, said Marilyn Brown, who, as assistant superintendent for student services for D.C schools, coordinates an exchange program sponsored by the school system and the Council of Great City Schools.
During their visits to different countries, students meet government officials as well as other youths. They live in dormitories or private homes, and compare the advantages and disadvantages of foreign cultures with American culture, Brown said.
The exchange programs, which often bring foreign students to America, are intended to foster peace and understanding among "the future leaders of the world," she said.
Cossel said, "We requested that the Czechoslovakian Embassy be receptive to the idea of having our students visit the country and by golly they were. I've always had it in the back of my mind to take a trip abroad with the children. Visiting the country they have studied all year will enhance and extend their learning opportunities."
The students, who have obtained passports and received a State Department briefing, plan to take such memorabilia as Redskins programs and have been assigned to write reports about their trip when they return, Cossel said.
Milton Binz, executive director of the Council for Great City Schools, said the council has organized month-long visits to Canada, Israel, Japan and the United Kingdom since 1978. D.C. schools first got involved in the exchange program in 1982, he said. "The assumption is that by bringing young people together in a young age, you can build better relations between them as adults," he said.
"We just got back from mainland China," said Edmund Millard, principal at Backus Junior High School who led a group of 15 students from across the country, including five from the District, to the far Eastern country.
Millard, a member of the Council on International Educational Exchange, an independent group of educators, said that the group established sister schools in Peking as a part of the sister cities agreement.