Eight Dover High students are getting an unparalleled opportunity to be part of history.
When a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes, you take it.
Granted, that is a cliché, but for eight Dover High School students, it’s the ultimate truism.
These young scholars, mostly enrolled in teacher Tom Leighty’s advanced placement history curriculum, are on their way to the coast of Normandy in France. They’ll take part in what may be the last mass gathering to commemorate Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.
“World War II has always interested me,” Coleman Akers said. “D-Day was a focal point in history. It changed so many things.”
The group, with Leighty, DHS history teacher Dianne Beck and two parents as chaperones, left from Philadelphia June 1. To help bring home the experience, the students all plan to wear some item of clothing bearing Dover High’s distinct Senator Blue, and will carry duffel bags emblazoned with the Senator logo.
They were scheduled to spend time in London to take in some historic sites and to visit Bletchley Park, home of the British codebreaking operation that proved vital to victory over Nazi Germany. Trips are planned to the Imperial War Museum, the Royal Air Force Museum and Churchill’s War Rooms.
From there, they travel from Portsmouth across the English Channel to Caen, France. Portsmouth was one of the key embarkation points for Allied troops on D-Day.
There’s one possible drawback. President Donald Trump is to conclude a three-day state visit June 5 by visiting Portsmouth with Queen Elizabeth II. That could cause security headaches, Leighty said.
Once on French soil, the students will visit the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, where they will take part in the U.S. and French government ceremonies June 6.
Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and other dignitaries are to attend, giving his students a chance to see many world leaders at one time, Leighty added.
The next day at Utah Beach they will take part in an educational program sponsored by the Utah Beach Museum. There they’ll have the opportunity to interview World War II veterans.
The group will spend at least two days in Paris, where they will examine the results of April’s Notre Dame cathedral fire and tour the city’s Latin Quarter.
Then they’ll be headed back to Philadelphia, Leighty said.
Students who sign up for AP classes generally stay enrolled throughout their high school careers. Planning for this trip began when the sophomores were freshmen. In fact, it has taken about 15 months – about the same amount of time it took to plan Operation Overlord.
Each student had to raise the $4,000 to go on the trip.
Carla Aldridge, whose son Keith is taking his first trip to France, said it was an important opportunity.
“He’s shown quite a bit of interest in wanting to go and I think he should be able to experience something as historic as this,” she said. “He’s always been interested in history, and I like that.”
The students will have one big advantage going with Leighty: it’s not the first time he’s visited Normandy. In 2015 he and a Dover High student traveled to the battlefield as part of a National History Day competition.
“When I saw information about the 75th anniversary and the chance to take students to Normandy, I felt I had to do it,” he said. “This is probably the last mass gathering of those veterans that will be possible.”
Even the youngest of the Normandy veterans is more than 90 years of age, Leighty said.
As part of the trip, his students are to research Delaware’s 10 soldiers killed on D-Day and to visit the graves of the six who are buried in nearby American cemeteries.
“That’s giving them a connection both to local history and to world history,” he said.
“This trip will give them a chance to walk in those soldiers’ footsteps,” Leighty said. “It should be something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”