Eighth grade students at Gifford Grade School and their parents this week learned the charter bus company they'd hired for a trip to Washington, D.C., has gone out of business.
GIFFORD — They booked hotel rooms, reserved a charter bus and finalized an ambitious itinerary to the National Mall, Arlington National Cemetery, Mount Vernon and other classic Washington, D.C. sights.
But the eighth grade students at Gifford Grade School and their parents weren't prepared for the call earlier this week when they learned the charter bus company had gone out of business. They're now scrambling to find a new bus service to take them across the country and at a price within their budget. So far the quotes are running about $2,000 more than organizers had originally estimated.
"It's been a rough school year for them. We'll make it happen, even if we have to pay for it ourselves. The kids in this town have been through so much," said Becky Schluter, one of the parents helping to organize the trip. She will accompany her daughter, Emily, to D.C.
Organizers budgeted about $650 per person and since last summer their families raised close to $24,000 for the trip. On several cold winter days they pumped gas for patrons of Casey's General Store for donations. They wrapped sandwiches and prepared other food at the I&I Antique Tractor Club's Half Century of Progress Show. They sold 275 dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts. They invited people to a spaghetti dinner.
"We're all about the kids working for this trip. They worked really hard, said Carleen Lantis whose daughter Sarah will go on the trip. "I get teary-eyed just talking about it," she said.
They're scheduled to leave April 12 and return on April 17. The trip coincides with the school's spring break.
The trip, which has become an annual tradition in recent years, is not a school sponsored trip, according to principal Rod Grimsley. But many students go each year. This year 16 students signed up, plus 22 adults, including parents and a few grandparents.
"For many of the kids it's going to be a trip of a lifetime. There's so much to see out there. ... It's educational, but a lot of fun," said Lantis, adding that a social studies teacher has prepared students on the sites they will see.
The group plans to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Arlington National Cemetery, the National Museum of the Marine Corps, George Washington's Mount Vernon estate, the National Mall, National Archives, the Smithsonian museums.
On their way to D.C. they plan to stop at the site where Flight 93 crashed in rural Pennsylvania.
"It's taken a lot of planning and they've worked so hard for it. We're doing what we can not to let them worry about it, to tell them that everything will be taken care of," Lantis said.
While planning the trip, the group last year sent in a $250 deposit to A&B Bus Line in Vandalia.
"Hopefully we'll get that back," Schluter said.
A News-Gazette call to the company on Friday was not immediately returned.
The good news is the group still has a majority of the money it budgeted for the bus and on Friday parents were calling companies across the state to obtain estimates.
They haven't ruled out adding in a few more fundraisers.
"It's not an option to cancel. ... We're going to make it work. We've got a great community," Lantis said.