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Seven students, two chaperones head to inauguration

LIHUE — When a former Kapaa High School teacher suggested traveling to the nation’s capital to witness the 2017 presidential inauguration, Sierra Perry jumped at the chance.

“I thought it’d be a really cool experience,” Perry said. “This was a controversial election, and I wanted to be a part of inauguration, no matter who was elected.”

It’s a sentiment Max Nagle, another Kapaa High senior, echoed.

“I’m excited to witness a process of American history,” he said.

Perry and Nagle are two of seven Kapaa High students who departed from the Lihue Airport Wednesday, bound for Washington, D.C. They are led by Sandi Combs, a former high school teacher.

Combs, who ran for District 14 state representative in 2016, quit her job in December. But she was committed to taking her former students to the inauguration.

“I thought it’d be a wonderful opportunity for my students to see a peaceful transition of power. Obama and Trump are radically different,” Combs said. “Of course, there’s going to be some protests, but at the end of the day, we’re going to have a new president.”

Matt Bernabe, parent of Bailey Bernabe who is also going on the trip, is the other adult chaperone.

“I want to show that even if the person you voted for didn’t win, it’s important to stand united,” he said.

Planning for the trip took about a year and a half.

“When Trump announced his candidacy, I booked the trip,” Combs said. “My students supported Bernie. I supported Trump. It was great because we each picked a candidate we were passionate about, and that invited political discourse in the classroom.”

The trip to Washington, D.C., was put together by Worldstrides, a student travel organization.

The final price-tag for the trip was $3,300 per student, which includes airfare, meals, hotel and admission to the inauguration.

Money for the trip was fronted by an anonymous donor who wanted to make sure Kauai students had a chance to experience a national event, Combs said.

“Some of these kids don’t have that kind of money; some of them haven’t even been off the island,” Combs said.

For Russel Sagucio, a senior, the trip is his first time to D.C.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” he said. “And a bonus is we get a week off of school.”

After Friday’s inauguration, students will take tours of D.C. and hit popular spots like the Washington Monument, National Mall and Capitol Building.

“I’m excited to witness American history that’s already happened,” Nagle said.

But it won’t all be fun and games. The students were able to get excused absences from school, and they are expected to do their schoolwork during their down time.

“I suggested they do it on the plane; it’ll be a long flight,” Combs said.

Perry said she’s been counting down to the inauguration since Combs told her they were going.

“We had a calendar in the classroom and everyday, we’d mark it off,” she said. “It’s crazy we’re here now.”

But being in a crowd of millions on Inauguration Day will be an interesting experience, she said.

“There’s going to be a lot of things going on. Kauai is so small, I’m not used to anything like it,” she said.

For Combs, being able to take the students to watch the inauguration hits close to home.

“I was in Uganda during an election, and the people were met with machine guns,” she said. “I want the students to be good global citizens and appreciate being American citizens. I want them know to their voice counts on a national level and feel connected to the Mainland.”

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