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Middle School Students Flying 5,000 Miles to Visit McDonald’s

May 7, 1990

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Four local middle school students are traveling 5,000 miles for a hamburger and fries.

The students, members of an eighth grade civics class, are flying to the Soviet Union this week on an 11-day tour sponsored by Steel of West Virginia Inc.

They’ll be free to do and see what they want in the Soviet Union and Berlin, with one exception.

To make sure they understand the ins and outs of world economics, the students must visit the Moscow McDonald’s.

″Just to drive it home to 14-year-olds, the only stipulation is that they have to stand in line at McDonald’s and buy a hamburger,″ said teacher and chaperone Jean McClelland.

Officials of Steel of West Virginia, which makes custom steel products, have been participating in a program in which local business officials visit Ms. McClelland’s civics classes once a week to teach students about economics.

But while the other visitors have been content to provide gifts for a school-sponsored auction at the end of the term, Steel of West Virginia’s representatives opted for a more expensive present. The company is footing the $14,000 bill for the trip including air fare, lodging and the cost of obtaining passports.

″We believe that we can have an impact upon the children ... that will affect them positively for the rest of their lives,″ said Larry Gue, vice president of human affairs at Steel of West Virginia. ″That’s all we’re looking for.″

He said the company picked the Soviet Union because of the economic lessons presented by the Moscow McDonald’s: the difference between Huntington’s McDonald’s and its inexpensive fast food, and the Moscow operation, where customers are willing to stand in line for hours to spend a substantial part of their paycheck for essentially the same items.

″The idea is hopefully they’ll understand the American free enterprise system,″ Gue said.

McClelland has 25 students in her civics class. The class came up with the criteria their teacher used in picking the four winners including attendance, grades and willingness to go new places and eat strange foods.

They also were given one week for research and then asked to write an essay about the Soviet Union. Even the worst students gave it a shot, McClelland said.

″I had never, ever gotten essays of that quality before,″ she said.

One eventual winner, Jason Simms, wrote a paper titled ″Is the Party Over?″ Another, Sonja Meenach, wrote about communications in the Soviet Union.

″It’s exciting and the chance of a lifetime,″ said another winner, Sara Walker.

The group flies to New York on Steel of West Virginia’s corporate jet Wednesday, then catches a flight to Frankfurt, West Germany, for a 5-hour layover and a connecting flight to Leningrad.

McClelland and the students will tour the Soviet Union for a week, then travel to Berlin for three days before returning to the United States.

Although just four students were chosen for the trip, their fellow students have been caught up in the excitement, McClelland said.

″The whole school’s been studying the Soviet Union,″ she said. ″They’ve been having speakers, videos. Music classes have been studying Russian composers. Health classes have been studying jet lag. Even math classes have been studying how far it is to Moscow.″

During their trip, the students will make videotapes and attempt to call their classmates during class.

″We wanted to share the experience,″ McClelland said. ″We didn’t want to be selfish.″

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