RICHMOND (CBS 5) – An East Bay high school teacher with a love of U.S. history and politics is bringing lessons to life for students in Richmond through annual trips to Washington, DC.

For twenty years, Dorothy Herzberg has been teaching in the Richmond. She first started taking students to the nation’s capital when she realized some felt like they had no role in the system.

“They needed to feel part of the country, they needed to see how it worked and to feel closer,” Herzberg said.

That connection is something she took for granted in her own family.

“Growing up, both my parents ran for congress at some point, and they were very into politics,” Herzberg remembered. “That was their life, every breathing moment.”

So every year, she takes kids from Richmond and Kennedy high schools to Washington as part of a national program called Close Up, giving students like senior Andre Taylor an inside look at democracy in action.

“Learning all I need to know about government, and seeing how it really works and meeting these people could be a segue into getting into politics,” Taylor said.

Herzberg raises the money – $1,900 per student – and over the past 11 years, has made it possible for almost 200 kids to make the trip.

*Note: Dorothy Herzberg tells us she is in urgent need of help paying for students to travel this year. If you can help, you can contact her at or send tax-deductible contributions to Close Up Richmond High / Cashier’s Office, 1250 23rd Street, Richmond, CA 94804.

During their six day visit, they join other Close Up students from around the country for a living classroom of tours, debates, workshops, and mock legislation.

“The whole idea is to see Washington close up,” Herzberg explained. “To feel closer to what goes on in the country, understand the process of democracy.”

Dante Romero went on one of Herzberg’s trips two years ago, and told this year’s students that having roommates from other states was his favorite part.

“It was not just learning about the history and the culture of this country, it was learning about the experiences of other people,” he said.

Fellow Close Up alumnus Ivonne Gomez agreed.

“You do come back, I would say, as a better person,” said Gomez. “You get a different aspect of what the city is about and what difference you can make.”

Esaul Orozco teaches government and economics at Richmond High. He said he’s seen students return empowered.

“These students come back and the (government) book comes to life,” he said. “They feel they are more involved. They met their representative so they can say, ‘I am going to write a letter to my representative and I know where it’s going.'”

And that’s why Herzberg works all year to make this happen.

“They realize there are possibilities,” she said. “I think it opens up opportunities for them. They begin to see that there is a big world out there.”

So for taking kids across the country to bring the lessons of democracy home, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Dorothy Herzberg.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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