Photo by Jana Bounds

Burgers for Civic Engagement


Ophir Middle School and Lone Peak High School (LPHS) Social Studies teacher Tony Coppola is often seen harnessing the flames of a massive grill outside of LPHS home games. The burgers he masterfully grills help 8th grade students earn their way to Washington D.C. He describes how the fundraising works and why the effort is so important. 

How does it work? The Concessions stand is part of the LPHS Athletic Department and the school district provides the money for the items to be sold at the stand during all high school Fall and Winter home sporting events.   As a fundraising vehicle a certain percentage of the profits from each event goes to the group fundraising.  As the concessions manager I utilize the proceeds from the concession stands to help fundraiser for the 8th Grade DC trip.  If any other school club or organization would like to help out I try to accommodate them as well.  For instance the Interact Club will be running the stand to raise funds for their upcoming trip to the Dominican Republic over spring break.  But it has mainly become a staple fundraiser for the DC trip over the last 5 years.

Do the 8th graders help out?

The 8th graders do help out.  They mainly run the stand, take orders, take money and help out by setting up and breaking down after the event.  It is a total team effort.  The idea is to teach them some real life skill sets and for them to buy in as a groupto help raise money for the greater good.  The trip to DC is earned not entitled.

Why do you do it?

I do it for the students. And I have a hard time not being helpful when help is needed.  Plus I get to see all of my students that are a part of the sports program do their thing.

Why do you think it is important for children to experience Washington, D.C.?

Civic engagement and participation is the cornerstone of a well informed and strong citizenry.  That is what CloseUp (the program the students go on) does for the 8th graders.  It really starts that journey for most of them to gain a political voice and opinion that might differ from the one developed from their parents or families. Students get to experience government in action, participate in mock congressional debates, discuss the roots of democracy and tackle social issues all while visiting museums, memorials and monuments honoring those who impacted US History.  They get to meet their Senators. Also it is great to get them out of the Big Sky bubble to experience a major urban center and meet new people (the class is usually in the program with 3 to 4 other schools from across the country).  They also come together as a group and it is great to see the cliques go away and new friendships formed.

Did you go there yourself as a child? Or as an adult? What impact did D.C. have on you?

I did attend Washington, DC in both the 6th and 11th grades.  The 6th grade trip was very similar to what the 8th graders do now while the 11th grade trip was not as structured towards civics and more like a tour.  In 11th grade we had the unfortunate timing of being there during the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building.   Needless to say it was quite an eye opening experience to watch the U.S. Capitol go on lockdown.  We were actually in line to tour the White House.  On the bright side we were there during Earth Day and got to see the National Mall in full bloom of protest along side celebrating Mother Earth.  I am not what you call a city person, but getting to go back to Washington DC each year feeds my inner history geek and reminds me that this noble experiment we call the U.S. Government is truly far reaching and relevant to all of us. This year will be my fifth trip as the Ophir 8th grade DC trip coordinator and the sixth time going with the program (I went as a chaperone one year). The administration, 8th grade families and my colleagues all contribute to this undertaking and I am truly grateful for their support.  I also want to take this opportunity to say thank you to the community of Big Sky for their outpouring of support, funds, time and effort to make this trip a reality.  When the rubber hits the road this place really makes this trip happen.  It truly takes a village.

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