In January 2020, 52 students and 13 teachers from 13 Simon Youth Academies across the country attended Close Up Washington D.C., a national program which offers civic engagement experiences designed to inform, inspire and empower young people to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizens in a democracy. SYF Academies have participated in Close Up since 2015 providing 184 students and 46 teachers this unique opportunity.

Using Washington, D.C. as a living classroom, students make personal connections with the people and institutions which embody our nation’s past and present. With the help of Close Up’s Program Instructors, students learn more about history and government while considering a variety of viewpoints.

The Simon Youth Academy students were inspired by their trip to our nation’s capital. From an academic exploration of our national monuments and memorials, to meeting with their local representatives in Congress and engaging with students from their fellow Academies, the trip provided a hands-on civic learning experience that many of SYF’s students may not otherwise have had access.

Throughout the trip, students “tookover” SYF’s social media accounts, sharing their learnings in real time. Following the Close Up trip, students and teachers shared their reflections about their experiences in Washington, D.C. Highlights from these reflections are shared below.


Maria, Student, Simon Youth Academy at BETA-Orlando, FL

“The Washington D.C. Trip was an incredible experience for me that was once in a lifetime. I saw things I’ve never seen in Orlando, and even things I’ve seen on the internet like the Lincoln Memorial and The African American Museum. We also went to see the Holocaust Museum which was very educational and taught me some things I didn’t know before. For example, I didn’t know that during that time period, a woman hid another woman from the officers, and faked a suicide letter while she was hiding her. Later on, they were set free.”

Anthony, Student, Simon Youth Academy at Port Charlotte Town Center-Port Charlotte, FL

“Getting a chance to meet dozens of students from seven different states was amazing…I now have a friend in California.”


Christopher, Student, Simon Youth Academy at Circle Centre Mall-Indianapolis, IN

“One of my favorite places to visit was Arlington National Cemetery. At first, I wasn’t as excited as others to visit Arlington Cemetery because of the fact that it is a cemetery. Soon after we entered, I was grateful we came. This visit allowed me to reflect on the importance of the sacrifices and dedication the men and women buried there made for the common good of our country. Prior to this visit, I have always had respect for our service members. This respect deepened to another level when I visited in person The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The ultimate sacrifice of those service members and their families solidified my honor and respect for what they mean to my life and our country.”


Marlenys, Student, Simon Youth Academy at Outlet Marketplace-Orlando, FL

“CloseUp was a wonderful experience that I truly enjoyed sharing with my peers. Everything was organized, well put together, and extremely memorable. I loved going to the debate the first night between the liberals and conservatives. It was really interesting seeing two sides debate on important issues that WE asked them about. This trip helped me realize that it is important for us to vote and be politically active and involve ourselves more so we can make a change. I especially enjoyed the workshop time. It let us meet other people and gave us the opportunity to get to know each other and our perspectives politically. The trip was filled with knowledgeable and kind people. The sites were incredible and I really liked the art museum and memorials. We were able to visit like the MLK Memorial and the quotes that I read were so thought provoking, insightful, and powerful. I can’t thank SYF and CloseUp enough for this opportunity. It was more than I had expected and I loved every part of it!”


Aliana, Student, Simon Youth Judson Learning Academy at Rolling Oaks Mall-San Antonio, TX

“I cannot say enough. I am more than grateful for the opportunity I received from the Simon Youth Foundation to go on this trip. It is something I will always cherish in my heart. It even inspired me to lean toward a better path.”




Haden, Student, Simon Youth Academy at Martha Raines High School-Katy, TX

“Visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and witnessing that history makes me want to be more engaged and active in my environment politically and socially.”



Taylor, Student, Simon Youth Clark-Pleasant Academy- Whiteland, IN

“While on the Washington D.C trip we got the opportunity to learn new things we may have not known, meet new people from other states, and meet people that work with the government. Some of the people we got to meet was a once in a lifetime experience. Not just anyone can go and meet them whenever they want to. All of the places we got to visit were very cool and nice memorials, everyone should at least see them once in their lives. We discussed different debate situations that happen in the real world today that we will eventually have to go through. Before we know it, it’ll be our generation that will be in the office working for the government. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Washington D.C., I highly recommend it. It’s a great city to be in while learning about our government and also learning about the past of the world we live in.”


Daija, Student, Simon Youth Academy at McKinley Alternative School-Kokomo, IN

“I enjoyed my time in Washington, D.C., even though the first day was overwhelming.  I enjoyed visiting the National Mall because it had multiple monuments to learn about and discover.  I think the Abraham Lincoln Memorial was the best because it had more things to look at and read about.  I also enjoyed the history museum and art gallery.  I think the gems and animals were the best part of the museum.  Also, about the art gallery, I liked the statue and it was something made with aluminum foil and I thought that was cool.  I also enjoyed visiting the Library of Congress and the White House and listening to the man speaking under the tent.”


Zoe and Akia, Students, Simon Youth Academy at The Mills at Jersey Gardens-Elizabeth, NJ

“At first, we were nervous about having to be away from our teacher and meet other kids, but we ended up making fast friends and still keep in touch with our other Simon Youth Academy peers! This added to the experience because we got to engage in many group activities besides sightseeing. We got to participate in a mock debate and also got to express our opinions on current issues. It was really challenging for us, but we had a great time doing it! As for the exhibits, we both really enjoyed the Holocaust Museum and visiting the Supreme Court. We got to meet our Congressman Albio Sires and also met Junior Senator Cory Booker! We honestly felt like celebrities and couldn’t have imagined having the chance to do these things if it were not for Close Up.”


Cory Sevier, Teacher, Simon Youth Academy at Indiana Premium Outlets-Edinburgh, IN

“Students from the Academy had an amazing trip this year in Washington D.C., thanks to cooperation with the Simon Youth Foundation and Close-up. These four young men were not only able to see multiple monuments and museums, but they were also immersed in a Civics curriculum that allowed them exposure to the working of our government and the proper ways to conduct themselves in a debate. Two boys in particular had never flown nor packed for a long trip before. The students were exposed to different cultures, urban environments, new transportation methods, and different leadership styles of various Close-up leaders. With every new obstacle, these four students responded with curiosity, flexibility, and most importantly: perseverance.”


Lisa Michaloski, Teacher, Simon Youth Academy at Raymond J. Lesniak Recovery High School-Roselle, NJ

“On Capitol Hill Day, the students and teachers met with Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. from Newark, NJ. We also met with a representative from Senator Cory Booker’s office before being surprised by meeting with the Senator himself! The students asked some great questions including asking about how to open more recovery based high schools. The students also saw a protest at the offices and asked questions about the purpose behind the protest to the organizers. I know our students will have memories to last a lifetime. Thank you to the Simon Youth Foundation and the Close Up Program for this wonderful opportunity!”



Kiki Banuelos, Teacher, Simon Youth Academy at Serra High School-San Juan Capistrano, CA

“Serra High School Simon Youth Academy had an amazing experience at the Close Up Program 2020. Students became active citizens learning about our government in hands on experiences provided by the amazing teachers Close Up. Some of the memorable experiences they had gave them the opportunity to learn the value of how citizens can get involved in government by protest, voting, and staying informed. These students will remember this amazing experience for a lifetime. It opened their eyes to fellow citizens across the country and inspired them to stay informed with government. Thank you Simon Youth for an everlasting experience!”


2020 Participating Academies:

Simon Youth Academy at Serra High School (San Juan Capistrano, CA)

Simon Youth Academy at Outlet Marketplace (Orlando, FL)

Simon Youth Academy at BETA (Orlando, FL)

Simon Youth Academy on Cochran (Port Charlotte, FL)

Simon Youth Academy at Port Charlotte Town Center (Post Charlotte, FL)

Simon Youth Academy at Indiana Premium Outlets (Edinburgh, IN)

Simon Youth Academy at McKinley Alternative School (Kokomo, IN)

Simon Youth Academy at Circle Centre Mall (Indianapolis, IN)

Simon Youth Clark-Pleasant Academy (Whiteland, IN)

Simon Youth Academy at The Mills at Jersey Gardens (Elizabeth, NJ)

Simon Youth Academy at Raymond J. Lesniak Recovery High School (Roselle, NJ)

Simon Youth Academy at Martha Raines High School (Katy, TX)

Simon Youth Judson Learning Academy at Rolling Oaks Mall (San Antonio, TX)

For more information about Simon Youth Foundation, please visit

For more information about the Close Up Foundation, please visit