A controversial, sometimes violent protest site that has made national headlines for the past few months is now the field trip destination for a group of Ashland Middle School and high school students.
Fifteen students from the Oredocker Project School in Ashland took off Tuesday morning to travel about 600miles to North Dakota, where they will be camping for two nights at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Dakota Access Pipeline Protest site.
It's a daring trip, but the teachers and chaperones involved say it's all about taking advantage of hands-on learning.
The Dakota pipeline protests started as a classroom lesson, students learned from hundreds of miles away about how protestors have been fighting the construction of a pipeline project, arguing it threatens their water supply and sacred sites.
Soon after, students aged 11 to 15 began pushing to go see the real thing. First the students got the Ashland School District’s approval then were able to fund raise the money themselves.
“They raised about $2,000 in less than a week,” said lead teacher Laura Comer.
“Trip is a groundbreaking for the students, for the group to travel, do this kind of thing and have this experience,” said trip supervisor Andrea Debungie.
Comer says the trip was planned quickly, but thoroughly.
“The plan is when we arrive we talk to security and they tell us where we can camp,” said Comer. “We set up camp, talk to people. The hope is to learn why they’re here, where they came from.”
It's a lesson that comes with a lot of risks; hundreds of people have been arrested at the protest site in the last few months.
Law enforcement also says some of the protests have turned to violence, and vandalism.
“We're not going to direct action spots where dangerous things happen, we're going to a camp that's safe and people aren’t doing anything illegal,” said Comer.
As far as the political nature of the protest, the teachers say the students are not going to be protesting but are quick to admit not everyone is going to be happy about the trip.
“There’s criticism every time you do something new and different. There are people who think it’s great, and people who think it is not,” said Comer.
Some other students at the school are attending an Enbridge forum in Ashland this week to get the other side's perspective on this protest.
The students are also bringing several donations with them for the school and camp at the North Dakota protest site provided by the community. The community also provided the funds to make the trip possible for the students.