TODAY   |  April 24, 2013

Class of 2020 students head to nation’s capital

Three students from TODAY’s Class of 2020 travel without their parents for the first time, taking a spring break trip to Washington, D.C., thanks to a program called People to People, launched by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to promote peace.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> now to our class of 2020 , where we're following a group of students from the first day of their kindergarten class to their high school graduation. natalie's been doing this, and they're in fifth grade.

>> now going to sixth grade. and they had a great opportunity to spend some of their spring break on a field trip in the nation's capital, traveling for the first time without their parents, to learn about america's past and learn a little history along the way.

>> it's like a holy place . you know, you want to have a lot of respect.

>> reporter: the vietnam war memorial might seem an unlikely place to spend your spring break . but for caroline, jordan, and zenzalai, it's just the beginning of a program called people-to-people. dwight d. eisenhower launched the program from 1956 to bring people together to promote peace.

>> near washington , d.c., their main goals are to learn about civics, american history with a backdrop of leadership.

>> reporter: the days are jam-packed with lessons on leaders like thomas jefferson --

>> e equals mc squared .

>> reporter: and albert einstein . one minute the kids are on a fact-finding mission at the museum of american history --

>> it's like a scavenger hunt .

>> reporter: next, they're talking to a former congressman.

>> what is the most fascinating issue you have dealt with since you have on the hill.

>> reporter: and sometimes they get to witness history in the making .

>> this is the supreme court here.

>> for zenzalai, the lincoln memorial is highlight of her trip.

>> it was martin luther king 's i have a dream speech.

>> reporter: long before mr. king made history there, another african-american was breaking history at the lincoln memorial . in 1939 , marian anderson , one of the most celebrated singers of her time, was denied permission to perform at a government ceremony in washington because of the color of her skin. when first lady eleanor roosevelt found out about the snub, she personally invited anderson to perform at an easter concert at the lincoln memorial .

>> reporter: anderson sang before a crowd of 75,000 people. 24 years later, dr. king chose that exact spot for his famous speech.

>> so when you're looking at that spot, where it says, i have a dream, manage how much history is there.

>> reporter: it is at this moment that history comes alive for zenzalai.

>> where is it? where is it? and she fights through the crowds to find the spot.

>> she sang right where martin luther king had his "i have a dream" speech.

>> reporter: zenzalai's parents stretched their budget to pay for her trip, but they believe the experience was priceless.

>> i'm glad that she was able the to hear that story, i'm glad that she was able to even be at the mall where dr. martin luther king gave that speech. i don't think she really feels any kind of limitations. i think she really feels like whatever she desires in life, she deserves and can have.

>> and it goes without saying that history continues to be made at that very spot in front of the lincoln memorial , because of the connection to marian anderson and martin luther king . beyonce actually requested to stand at that same spot when she sang at president obama 's inauguration festivities back in 2009 .

>> you're reminded, just within a few city blocks, how much history you can see, even if you have one day.

>> exactly.

>> and you really don't have -- i mean, there's so much to do in one day. you could pack so much in. give it more time.

>> we want to tell you as well about a contest. if you think your child would enjoy a field trip to washington , d.c. to see some of those sights we just showed you there, the people-to-people organization is offering a chance for two students to take the very same trip this summer. you can logon to, look for the class of 2020 page, and you'll find the link to the people-to-people independence day scholarship contest. it's open to any student current in fifth grade through ninth grade. the winners will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the nation's capital.

>> a great opportunity.

>> something we take for granted and a lot of people don't get there.