Nampa High School senior Amelia Williams said she looked around the inside of the U.S. Capitol on Friday and smiled.
The building that houses Congress was closed because the federal government is in a holding pattern. Yet there they stood: Williams, nine of her classmates and two of their teachers, the recipients of a personal tour given by U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho.
"It made everyone feel like a celebrity because it was like we were getting special treatment," said Williams, 17.
The students arrived in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, a day after the House and Senate were unable to come to an agreement to fund the government. Offices, parks, museums and historical sites were shut down.
Labrador read an Idaho Statesman story about their trip and directed his staff to come up with a plan to show the students around.
"He wanted us to go the extra mile to make sure they had a good experience," Labrador spokesman Todd Winer said.
Labrador took the students and teachers on a three-hour tour through the Capitol and the Library of Congress. He then took them to lunch at the Good Stuff Eatery, a hamburger joint a short walk from the Capitol.
"Their faces just lit up when they went inside the Capitol," Nampa High history teacher Nicole Dodge said. "I don't think they realized the history that was found inside that building. You could see they were awestruck."
Williams said she thought that Dodge was joking when she told the students they were going to get to walk inside the Capitol.
"I think we've been very blessed. It's been extraordinary, considering what's been going on with Congress," Williams said. "... I will remember this for the rest of my life."
Junior Mason Dodge, Nicole Dodge's son, said walking through the Capitol and the Library of Congress was better than he imagined.
"It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime event," the 16-year-old said.
One of Friday's highlights occurred when the group walked through the House of Representatives and Labrador led them to the balcony occupied by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner then walked in.
"He was in a big hurry but he shook our hands and said 'Hello,' " Williams said.
Later Friday, the group met with U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and planned to view the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. They'll return to Capitol Hill on Saturday before heading to New York City that evening.
The students spent nearly two years working to raise $2,000 apiece to cover trip costs. Dodge and communications and business teacher Camille Levi planned the trip to expose the teens to a wider world and encourage them to find their place in it.
Dodge said she was grateful to Labrador for showing them around and for the opportunity for the students to see members of Congress in person.
"I thought it was important for the kids to see their representatives as real people," she said.
On Thursday, the students visited the United States Marine Corps Memorial, which commemorates the Feb. 23, 1945, raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima by five Marines and a Navy corpsman. The statue is based on a photo taken by Joe Rosenthal that won the Pulitzer Prize and became one of World War II's most iconic images.
The students also got to walk past the White House, see Arlington National Cemetery, and go to old Alexandria, Va., and George Washington's home at Mount Vernon.
"It was humbling to see his place," Nicole Dodge said. "It was grand but it wasn't the grand we know today."
While speaking with a reporter Friday afternoon, Dodge and the students walked past Ford's Theatre and the Petersen House across the street, where President Abraham Lincoln died.
"It was closed, but it was nice to see the buildings," she said.
John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell