For a week, 48 Pinecrest Academy high school students bounced around Washington, D.C. from one U.S. landmark to another during the junior class’s annual trip to the nation’s Capital for the 2019 March for Life rally on Jan. 18 against abortion.
Pinecrest has sent high school students to D.C. for the March for Life rally for almost 12 years, and the trip has served the dual purposes of providing students with a real-world experience of exercising their First Amendment rights and as a culmination for the school’s Theology of the Body curriculum, which touches on issues surrounding abortion.
This year’s event experienced more controversy than usual, though it was less about the March for Life event than a confrontation involving various groups in attendance for simultaneous rallies. But at the center of the controversy was a group of male students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who were there for the March for Life event.
Coverage of the confrontation dominated the media cycle for the next few days, and among the questions raised was the appropriateness of sending high school-aged youth to an event centered around one of the country’s most divisive issues.
The latest controversy has had little impact on the school’s thinking of whether or not to send students in the future. Pinecrest takes several precautionary measures, said James Stone, chair of the high school theology department and one of the chaperones on the trip. They hire a local tour guide and choose some of the school’s most veteran teachers to serve as chaperones.
“God help us to have the wisdom to do the right thing to protect our students,” James Stone said. “The safety of the students is the most important thing always, and to educate them on proper civil discourse.”
Started in 1974, the March for Life rally is often mischaracterized, said Alison Stone, a Pinecrest high school art teacher and head of the school’s Respect Life club who has attended the D.C. trip from the very start.
While the event often draws upwards of 1 million people, the crowd largely consists of school children and families, she said, and its tone is meant to be framed as “pro-life” rather than “anti-abortion.”
“It’s really the celebration of life,” Alison Stone said. “What we want them to get is this aspect that all life is sacred, all of it’s precious, and everyone, especially the most vulnerable, are meant to be protected and respected.”
They do that through a wide-ranging itinerary. The group went to each of the presidential memorials, White House and Library of Congress. They usually attend several Smithsonian museums but were unable to during this trip because of the partial government shutdown.
There’s also a spiritual component of the trip with stops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Saint John Paul II National Shrine and the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. The students also celebrate mass with a sister school from Detroit.
But Alison and James Stone said students are most often impacted by their day before the March for Life rally. That Thursday, the students visited the Holocaust Museum and afterward the Arlington National Cemetery, where they witness the changing of the guard and put a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“To make that connection that we value life and we need to protect the most vulnerable members of society and their rights,” James Stone said. “Those who don’t have the opportunity to speak for themselves, someone must stand up and defend them.”