Washougal teacher launches nonprofit to raise money for student travel

Scott Rainey has taken hundreds of Washougal middle-school students to the East Coast during the past 18 years on an education field trip that includes stops in New York City, Washington, D.C., and some of the United States’ most famous historical landmarks.

Rainey, a history teacher at Jemtegaard Middle School, is happy for the students, but equally sad for the pupils that he has to leave behind — the kids who want to go but simply can’t afford the travel costs.

That’s why he’s launching a nonprofit organization called East County Student Travel that will raise funds for students to take trips like his.

“I’ve said a million times that if I won the lottery, I would gladly write a check out of my own pocket for any kid who could not afford it because I’ve seen just how powerful travel is is for kids in terms of opening their eyes to what the world is and the things beyond their small community,” Rainey said. “There’s a big world out there, and it’s pretty awesome and amazing, and there’s great things to see, so I want to give as many kids as possible the chance to do that.”

Rainey has set up accounts at local iQ Credit unions and is working to establish a Facebook page that will accept donations. He’s also looking into the possibility of partnering with establishments, such as Burgerville, MOD Pizza, Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt and others, that donate a certain percentage of their sales to nonprofit organizations.

And he’s trying to figure out the best way of allocating the funds that he does receive.

“We are really still in the process of exploring (the answer to that), to be honest, because we have to have the money first,” he said. “I think probably what it would have to come down to, and the way I’ve looked at the model that a lot of these nonprofits use, is to (give money) on a needs basis, kind of a sliding scale sort of thing, based on where the family’s coming from and whatnot. I had a kid who was effectively homeless, and it was like, ‘Well, OK, there’s really no other family resources here.’ So if there’s a situation like that, we’d probably be looking at a complete scholarship, whereas with other kids, it might be $1,000 or $2,000 or whatever it may be. We’d have to work with the families individually.”

Rainey is taking more of a grass-roots approach to soliciting interested students for now, but eventually hopes to adopt a “formal application process.”

“At this point, I’m just kind of putting it out there to my families that come to my information meetings,” he said. “I say, ‘I have this foundation, and we’re just kind of getting started out. If you have a financial need, we can hopefully help you out with that.’ I imagine that once the ball gets rolling, once we can get some corporate donations and get $20,000 or $30,000 in the coffers, we will probably begin a formal application process.”

Rainey’s field trip has become an annual “rite of passage” for many Washougal eighth-graders. They visit the cities of Jamestown and Williamsburg in Virginia to learn about the United States’ early colonial era and role in the Revolutionary War. They go to Mount Vernon, also in Virginia, to see the plantation owned by the country’s first president, George Washington. Rainey takes the students to Washington, D.C., where they tour the United States Capitol, Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and take photos outside of the White House. They journey to Pennsylvania, where they visit the famed Gettysburg Civil War battlefield and have dinner with an Amish family in Lancaster. The trip ends in New York City, where the students visit Times Square, Broadway, Wall Street and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

“(The tour) is a whirlwind of live reenactment sites, museums, monuments, memorials, guided tours, and more,” according to a letter written by Cynthia Fahrenkrug, a special education paraeducator for the Washougal School District, who nominated Rainey for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Department of Washington’s 2021-22 Citizenship Education Middle School Teacher of the Year award, which he won. “And it is an opportunity of a lifetime for most of the student (and parent) participants. Many develop a far deeper appreciation of our history, and the progress and evolution unique to our country.”

Rainey said that when he started the trip in 2004, it cost about $2,000 per student. Now it costs more than $4,000.

“There’s a real issue of equity going on with this,” he said. “Of course it’s reality, but I think it’s horrible that you have a bunch of kids with incredible potential, and the only thing holding them back is financial limitations. If it weren’t for those limitations, they could go on to be a great head of state or author or explorer or inventor or whatever it may be. How many resources have we squandered, how many great discoveries have been lost, just because (kids were told), ‘Well, sorry, you can’t afford to do this?’ It just kind of kills me. I know that I’m not going to be able to send every kid on a trip, but I’m going to give this kind of experience to as many of them as I can.”

About 45% of Jemtegaard students qualify for free and reduced lunch, according to Rainey.

“And if I could take every one of those kids on this trip, I would do it in a heartbeat, because it’s a game-changer,” he said. “It’s a chance to see the world and see things that you never would have seen. My favorite quote is from Mark Twain, who said, ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness,’ and that’s really a big part of it. The reason why I’m so big on travel is that it opens minds. It gives anyone the opportunity to see that someplace that’s different isn’t bad, isn’t scary, isn’t evil. It’s just different, and different is cool.”

For more information about East County Student Travel, email wasougalstudenttravel@gmail.com.

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