Getting up close

Josie Smith and Kim Dean

After being “Stuck in Dallas,” 21 Newcastle Middle School students finally got to their Washington, D.C., destination. The teens were traveling to the nation’s capital for their Close Up trip from April 1-7. NMS social studies teachers Robert and Sheila Munger organized and guided the group.


The group left Newcastle in the wee hours of the morning of April 1, boarding buses at 2:30 a.m. to make their early flight out of Rapid City, South Dakota. They later learned that their connecting flight in Dallas had been canceled due to inclement weather. While the group was definitely “Stuck in Dallas,” as the song says, the Close Up Foundation sprang into action to aid the travelers at the midway point of their trip. 


Sheila Munger answered questions by email and provided more detail about this year’s trip and their past adventures. She said they had faced flight cancellations and delays on nearly every trip and, on one occasion, ha  d to spend the night in the airport on pillows and blankets provided by the airlines, with chaperones taking shifts to supervise students overnight. Close Up was able to assist this year’s group with the unexpected cancellation.   


“This year Close Up made us hotel arrangements in Dallas so we didn’t have to sleep in the airport. Since the canceled flights happened earlier in the day, they were able to help us out,” Munger wrote. 


Being delayed an extra day in Dallas meant that the group missed the Jamestown and Williamsburg portion of their trip because they were routed through Tampa, Florida, on Sunday, with an added four-hour layover. 


“Mr. and Mrs. Munger, and chaperone Jason Purviance helped us all make the best of it,” said Josie Smith, an NMS student who went on the trip. 


Upon arriving in Washington, the students participated in the rest of the planned Close Up activities Sunday evening, including a last workshop with assigned group members by Close Up. The group also made it to D.C. just in time to see the last of the beautiful cherry blossoms.   


The Mungers have 25 years of experience taking middle school teens on Close Up trips to Washington. The Newcastle connection to the organization began when Close Up reached out in the spring of 2002 announcing that a grant was available but that it needed to be used quickly or the funds would be lost. The grant allowed 12 qualifying students to go to D.C. for $100 each.


“We were terrified at the idea of taking middle school students to a big city, but how do you say no to an opportunity like this for students? You don’t! That’s how we got started,” wrote Munger, who added that students gain a great deal from the experience. 


The students learn about navigating airports, important historical people and events, and where they lived and how they functioned many years ago. 


The News Letter Journal’s news editor, Alexis Barker, went on one of the first trips with the Mungers in 2003. She said she still recalls the memories made and lessons learned. 

“The whole trip was a new and exciting experience. I would have never had the opportunity to see the amazing things I did without the Mungers and the Close Up program,” Barker said. 


She said she made many friends, learned new things and saw sites that played a role in shaping the country. 




“We would be pulled aside for a while and talk about the issues historical people like our Founding Fathers faced while creating a new government. Then, we would be allowed to explore different places and find examples of those certain concepts we would talk about as a workshop,” said Smith, who added that the learning sessions lasted until 9 p.m. or took place early in the morning, after breakfast.

By visiting Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, and exploring Philadelphia, the students learned about how the Founding Fathers instituted the U.S. Constitution. Philadelphia was a historical site, where the United States and its form of government were born. Touring and learning about its history was another major part of the Washington trip. 


The Lincoln Memorial was a popular favorite among students who went on this trip. 


“Lots of my new friends I made on this trip would stand by his ankles and compare how massively large he looked sitting on this throne-like chair watching all of us. We were also in awe of how mighty and powerful he looked,” Smith said. 


Netanya Prell, who also went on the trip, shared her thoughts.


“I liked meeting new people and seeing new places, and I learned that different places have much different problems than us,” she said.  


Munger said that, upon arrival in D.C., Close Up takes over, offering chaperones some relief, and that it is a great organization to work with. 


“They have program instructors for the students during the week and night guards who supervise the students at night so we can sleep. They are our best friends!” Munger wrote. 

Every year the trip is offered to seventh and eighth graders. 


“I definitely recommend this trip. It is a fun learning experience, and the memories I have made there I will surely never forget. It is fun and you do get to try various types of different food, like Philly cheesesteaks, and many more. You also get to hear different types of opinions from your group mates on government issues. You learn to work together, and you definitely get people skills,” said Smith, who added that she is thankful to her teachers and Close Up for the experience.


To date, the Mungers have taken 517 middle school students, 28 parents, 18 other adults with students (teachers, grandparents and administrators), 17 high school students, and 21 adults through the adult program, for a total of 601 people connected to Newcastle. 


The Mungers had a hand in starting the adult Close Up program as well. 


“We had adults asking if we could do a trip for adults. We asked Close Up, and they worked with us to create an adult-only program,” noted Munger, who added they are currently organizing a third adult trip for July 2024. The trip will include Gettysburg, Philadelphia and New York. Boston is available as an add-on. If interested, contact Robert or Sheila Munger for details.


(Ed. note: NLJ Managing Editor Kim Dean crafted this story with her granddaughter Josie Smith. If you are part of a local group, and have an interesting experience you would like to share it with the community, please contact Kim at to learn how.)


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