It is one thing to learn a lesson about a historical event and place from a book; it is another to thing actually be there.

Ten East Peoria Community High School students attended the Spirit of American Youth Leadership Program at the Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge, Pa., Nov. 8-11. The Freedoms Foundation, according to information on its Facebook page, was founded in 1949 and is a “national, non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian education organization, which provides civic and citizenship education and encourages an appreciation of American history and heritage.”

Caterpillar Foundation sponsored 100 student and 10 teachers from Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana to attend the program. The students who went on the all-expense paid trip from EPCHS were: Landon Norvill, Cassidy Troup, Ben Bruce, Connor Durm, Cody Giebelhausen, Savannah McClure, Ashley Combs, Ashley Brandow, Kat Ragon and Rebecca Burkhead.

Last week, seven of these students talked about their experience. Durm explained that each student wrote an essay. An educator chose which students would go on the trip according to the best essays.

“We had to write the essays over homecoming weekend,” Giebelhausen said.

On Sept. 24, the students, who are in Marty Green’s U.S. history and government class, found out they were going on the trip.

“I was so excited,” Ashley Combs said.

It was McClure’s first time flying.

“I was a little freaked out,” she said.

It was the first time any of the students had been to Valley Forge. The students said they did not really know what to expect of their four day trip.

“We actually knew very little,” Troup said.

“We knew we were going to see historic places and it was a leadership program,” Combs said.

Giebelhausen said different corporations send students to the program and it was the first time Caterpillar got involved and sent the students from EPCHS.

Both the students and Green were appreciative of Caterpillar’s gesture.

“That was so generous of them to foot the bill,” Green said. “How many kids get that chance?”

Green said Caterpillar approached the high school about the program.

“What a great deal. It’s the first time ever Caterpillar’s done this,” Green said. “It exposed the kids to so many different things. It was real high level thinking stuff. … It was like sitting in a college classroom. They challenged the young people. Heck, I took note. I learned a lot.”

Green said he is already incorporating some of what he learned at the leadership program into his classroom.

On the first day at the Freedoms Foundation, the students had dinner, took a citizenship test, heard their itinerary and played games.

“They were long days. We were going from 6:30 a.m. to 11 each day,” Giebelhausen said.

“It was a blast. We stayed in dorms on the campus,” Norvill said.

On the second day, the students heard a head lobbyist from Caterpillar speak.

“You see how lobbying is important to corporations and the government,” Troup said.

They also listened to lectures from two professors from Lafayette College. They talked about balancing the nation’s security and interpreting the Constitution.

“They asked you questions to get you thinking,” Norvill said.

“We learned it was really hard to balance your rights with security,” Combs said.

Norvill said his favorite part was listening to keynote speaker Dan McClair, who talked about leadership.

“He was just really engaging. He taught us a lot,” Norvill said.

Troup said McClair focused on leading significant lives.

Some of the things the students said they took away from the conference were:

“You have to take advantage of opportunity, and it’s never too early to start leading,” Norvill said.

“You can be a leader anywhere,” Combs said.

Bruce said he learned the importance of compromise when it comes to other’s beliefs.

“You need to be your own person and take control of your life and the opportunities presented to you,” Durm said.

All of the lessons were not in a classroom. The students got to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. They also visited the oldest church in the United States. Ben Franklin and George Washington attended the church at one time.

“Your whole life you get to learn about this stuff in textbooks, then you see it in real life and it puts it in perspective. It was really cool,” Norvill said. “I just wish we had more time.”

The students also forged relationships with other students at the leadership program. The 100 students who attended the program were divided into teams to participate in a free enterprise challenge. Each team was given a bag of miscellaneous items and had to make a product from that and then do a verbal commercial to market it.

“We made a fat burning suit,” Giebelhausen said.

“We made a party package. We won first place,” Norvill said.

The students said they made new friends and will keep in touch with some of them on Facebook.

All of the students said they would recommend the program and would do it again.

To view additional photos of the trip, visit