A Field Trip to the Ronald Reagan Leadership Academy with NHS

As it was announced back in May that we were entering a distance learning format for the 2020-21 school year, we scrambled to find ways to build a community online. For classes and clubs alike, it was difficult to find ways to create spaces to do so, especially within the National Honor Society (NHS), a coveted community service-based club at Pinole Valley High School.

In finding ways to establish a virtual community with a new cohort of NHS students, we looked to ways of going on field trips since we were unable to tour and visit colleges last spring due to COVID-19 (hopefully, in the spring, we can do so). We eventually found our way to the Virtual Field Trip offered by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute in Southern California. 

During the field trip, we partook in being oval office cabinet members and got a taste of what it is like to be President. If you happen to be taking AP U.S. Government or American Government, this was helpful to gain the first-hand experience on how a President would make decisions as arguably the U.S. President is known to be one of the most powerful people in the world. Students were able to work on a high school-level leadership simulation with staff from the Ronald Reagan Leadership Academy in determining some of the ideas and decisions that Ronald Reagan took when he was in office. 

The Reagan Leadership Academy introduced us to a real-life scenario on the Caribbean island of Grenada where the President and his inner circle had to scope out important decisions! “In the game-based simulation, we learned about a group of American medical students currently on the small, communist, island country of Grenada in 1983. During the 1980s, the Cold War increased tension throughout the world as it was a battle between two sides––the United States and the Soviet Union as it introduced political tension characterized by its threats, propaganda, and other measures of open warfare,” as mentioned by the Reagan Leadership Academy. Unfortunately, as time progressed, the American medical students became trapped on the island as take over with a rebel government took place. And it was up to us to determine the next move on what should occur next.

The Virtual Field Trip was a great team-building exercise and leadership experience for many NHS members as we had both agreements and disagreements in the group, which meant that we had to unify our thoughts and voices together to find the best solution. In my group, we had to decide to bring a military onto the island of Grenada to rescue the American medical students. And in our decision, we had disagreements on our stances, which made it somewhat hard, yet somewhat easy. Ultimately, we chose the decision of bringing a small military force onto the island, however, it became a fatal move as we ousted our plan to the world. 

In this specific battle, we learned about how the First Amendment of the Constitution is utilized in terms of the freedoms granted to us. In the fatal move, we learned that the press discovered our plans of bringing a military force onto Grenada and uncovered it to the world to see, making us susceptible to a loss as forces began to prepare for military warfare on Grenada. Despite the fatal loss that the press created for us, it was in their right for them to release the information to the public as it was necessary to provide the information to the families of the medical students who were trapped on the island as there was little discourse about the recovery conversation at the time. 

With the example of the First Amendment brought up during the simulation, it reminded me of my time back in AP U.S. Government with Ms. Wood, where we explored President Nixon and his administration’s sticky situation with the Pentagon Papers, a highly controversial report regarding the covering-ups of the Vietnam War as they tried to discredit and restrict this piece of information from releasing to the media. However, in attempting to restrict this piece of information, the Supreme Court dictated that the government had no right in placing prior restraint and infringing on the rights granted in the First Amendment. Luckily for Reagan, he did follow in the footsteps of Nixon. 

In the simulation, a reporter came to our “oval office” or in other words, Zoom breakout room, and explained their reasoning for choosing to release our valuable information to the public, as it was their right to have access to both freedoms of press and speech. Nicole Bravo, a current sophomore, asked the reporter, “Why did you report the story, why did you let the Grenadians know our plan?” leaving some head-turns in a striking move to discuss the conversation around the freedom of the press. 

Matthias Gabel, a current senior, said that “it was unexpected at first as I didn’t realize I was going to be President, and I thought it was nerve-racking but I thought it was pretty good so far. I learned to choose between tough decisions and it was helpful having advisors agree with my ideas.” Ultimately, many of the NHS members and even the chaperones who chimed in (thanks to Mr. Kleiman, Ms. Dibble, and Ms. Elliott for joining in the fun) thought the field trip was both fun and an interesting experience to be a part of. 

At the end of the field trip, we experienced a virtual tour of a grounded Air Force One and a little sneak peek at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Grounds with current staff from the Library. There, we saw how Air Force One was structured when President Reagan was in-office where it was cramped compared to today’s modern planes. The Boeing 707 was designed to seat over 100 passengers but was retrofitted to meet the guidelines of the President’s needs from the necessary items like a command center to the quirky things: a galley stocked with cakes for celebrating birthdays and special occasions. 

The figures at the Reagan Leadership Academy also provided us a taste of the real-world by showing us that we pay for these airplanes at roughly $5 billion apiece. Though most of us students don’t file taxes just yet, we do pay sales tax on most of the items we purchase from that pie from MOD Pizza or your Black Friday clothing purchase.

In learning from the Virtual Field Trip, we were able to gain a sense of the realities of making decisions; it’s not about making the right or wrong decisions, but how you come to those specific decisions. At the same time, it gave NHS members to meet one another and understand the various perspectives that we have as individuals to help us all grow and thrive in one place. NHS plans to do more of these virtual field trips in the future, and hopefully in-person if conditions become safe to do so of course! 

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation also offers a variety of programs for high school students if you are interested!

GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship Program: Open to current high school seniors and is due January 5, 2021.

Great Communicator Debate Series: informal debate competition based on regions (Western, for us Spartans and will take place online for the 2020-21 school year), and the topic is regarding “The United States should replace the electoral college with the popular vote in the presidential election