Weatherford Tours America, a local 501(C)(3) non-profit organization, takes local students and other interested parties on educational tours to the most interesting places in the United States.

Founded in 2017 by Shelley Pond, Dana Hickman and Todd Earp, the organization strives “to promote, organize, fund and operate various education opportunities for the youth and other interested citizens of Weatherford and the surrounding area without any regard, to race, religion or social-economic status,” according to the mission statement.

Pond and Hickman, both teachers at Weatherford Middle School, wanted to take their students on education trips across the nation, but were unsure how to get started. The idea was discussed with the school board. While the board liked the education tours idea, it did not want the liability of taking teens across the country. Pond and Hickman needed to find another route.

“They reached out to me for some ideas, and I said ‘Let’s do a nonprofit and some fundraising,’” Earp said.

Earp has previously worked with the local YMCA Youth and Government group, so he had some experience in this area.

After doing some research, the organization began working with the Texas-based group School Tours of America. The business was founded by former social studies teacher Frank Harvey and his son Lance. Harvey took his students to Washington, D.C., in 1976 and shortly thereafter turned the trips into a family business.

School Tours of America provides everything from the moment groups get off the plane to the moment they begin the trip home. Tour groups receive tickets for the flights, private security during the tour period, their own hotel floor, insurance, an on-site physician, licensed guides, meals and transportation.

Their first trip was to Washington, D.C., in 2018. Earp said they took about 83 local students with them. They visited the Capitol Building, White House and Iwo Jima Memorial. In addition, two students were chosen as part of a group to lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Earp said his favorite part was visiting Mt. Vernon.

“Going up the stairs with your hand going across the handrail, you think of the people in history who have done the same on their way to meet with Gen. (George) Washington,” he said.

The next year, the organization took about 41 students to visit Boston and New York. While they had fun, Earp said it made him nervous to have such a large group in such a busy, crowded place.

Last year, the group was set to take more than 40 students for another visit to Washington, D.C., but the COVID-19 pandemic postponed plans. Earp said as of right now the trip is planned for May 2021, but it could change as the situation continues to fluctuate.

Due to the reservations for flights and hotel rooms, the group for the 2021 trip is set. However, planning for 2022 will begin sometime this summer. All-in-all, the trip costs about $1,700 per person, but this covers everything except snacks and souvenirs.

Earp said students typically are in sixth grade or older, but the groups also includes parents, grandparents and anyone else who was interested.

The organization offers fundraising opportunities for students who do not have the money for the trip. They have hosted various raffles, sheet sales, car washes, Indian taco dinners and anything else to give students this opportunity.

Story courtesy of Leanna Cook of Weatherford Daily News