Hands-on history: Teens get crash course in America at Freedoms Foundation conference

Hands-on history: Teens get crash course in America at Freedoms Foundation conference

May 26th, 2014 in Life Entertainment

High school students attending the youth conference held recently in Valley Forge, Pa., are, seated from left, Megan Thompson, Collegedale Academy; Corinna Cicci, Red Bank High, and Tiffany Majors, Silverdale Academy. Second row, from left, are Chandler Abbott, Hixson High; Axel Ortiz, Ooltewah High; unidentified teen from outside Hamilton County; Emily Lupo, Center for Cre- ative Arts; unidentified teen from outside Hamilton County, and Alyssa Welch, Central High. In back are, Will Guill and Kevin Chamberlain, Red Bank High; Brandon Lewis, Central High, and Matt Lewis, East Hamilton High.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

What is the Freedoms Foundation?

Founded in 1949 by E.F. Hutton, Don Belding, Kenneth Wells and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Freedoms Foundation is located on 85-acres in Valley Forge. The educational nonprofit encourages engaged and responsible citizenship based on the Bill of Responsibilities authored by Freedoms Foundation in 1985. The organization promotes the ideals and principles of our free society and encourages all Americans to embrace their rights and the responsibilities and contribute to the common good of society.

Source: freedomsfoundation.org

Corinna Cici, a rising senior at Red Bank High School, had been considering a career in politics, but a recent trip to Pennsylvania cemented the deal.

Corinna was one of 11 area high school students invited to attend the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge Spirit of America Youth Leadership Program. The annual three-day conference gives students a crash course in citizenship, democracy, the free-enterprise system, the judicial system and the American political process, according to freedomsfoundation.org.

"The one thing that spoke the most to me at the conference was the fact that a group of about 90 students from all over the country were asked to make decisions on real-life events, and we were able to come together, collaborate and work things out. And we did," she says. "I thought what we did was good for the future and a contrast to the way the government is now.

"I was thinking about going into politics as I got older, but this experience fueled it," Corinna says.

Invitations to the conference were based on individually written essays and interviews with members of the local chapter of Freedoms Foundation. The essays had to be about an American event related to the U.S. Constitution. Corinna wrote about the ratification of 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, because, she says, it allows her the freedom to pursue a career that may have once been limited to men.

Retired educator Jeanne Abbott, who taught in local public schools for 17 years and was a principal in Hamilton County schools for 20 years, says Freedoms Foundation is based on the ideals and principles upon which the United States was founded.

Abbott was one of three members of the local chapter of the foundation who accompanied the students to this year's conference, held in late April. The conference, first held in 1965, is intense but fun, she says.

"Days started at 7 a.m. and ended at 11 p.m.," Abbott says. "The program was housed on the beautiful Valley Forge grounds - the headquarters for George Washington and his top aides while the (Revolutionary) war was being fought. The beginning of America, what it meant then and what it means now, was played out each day through inspirational activities and guests speakers.

"Students learned how our nation won independence from England and how many men and hours it took to draw up the Bill of Rights for all citizens," Abbott says. "Those difficulties made them realize how important it is to preserve those rights that were granted to us."

William Guill, another rising senior at Red Bank, also attended the conference. A history buff, William, 17, says "it was good to learn more about our country, and that's been a big topic at school this year."

"Not only did I learn leadership principles and how to work with others, I made lasting friendships with people from around the country," he says.

Valerie Rutledge, dean of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga College of Health, Education and Professional Studies, has been an active member of Freedoms Foundation since 1982. She's served as president, board member, vice president of youth and vice president of education, among other duties.

"This organization offers a number of programs that focus on cultivating engaged, responsible citizens knowledgeable in American history and democracy, who understand their constitutional rights, are familiar with the free enterprise system and entrepreneurship, and who will serve as leaders in their community," Rutledge says.

Students who participate in the annual conference are typically interested in American history and are involved in school-based ROTC programs, she says. Many also enjoy traveling and meeting students from around the country.

"Many of them gain lifelong friends from this experience and enjoy having connections across many states within the USA," she says.

Abbott's grandson, Chandler Abbott, 18, a rising senior at Hixson High School, was selected to participate in the recent conference.

"I am proud of my grandson for recognizing the place that Valley Forge had in our history and that it is up to his generation to uphold and push forward patriotism and civic pride to always keep our nation free," she says.

Chandler says the experience brought history to life.

"It was great to meet students from other states and be able to do leadership projects with them," he says. "I consider myself lucky to have been given the opportunity."

Contact Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.