Washington D.C. 2022
When the chaperones stepped into the hallway to perform wake-up knocks, we could already hear movement and showers running! Most of the kids were already up and at it. Some were fully dressed and ready to burst out the door as soon as a knuckle rapped on the wood. I guess we can say round one in the matter of kids versus the hotel alarm clocks goes to the kids.
Mr Brannan, believing the early start the kids got meant they were excited to see the days’ sites, so he asked a group of boys, “What are you most excited to do today?”
Breakfast was in the President’s Room. The kids thought this was pretty cool. I guess we mention it here so the marketing team at Hyatt knows they’ve done their job. It was just a normal room with a breakfast buffet. But the food was good and filling, which was great because we had a packed day ahead of us.
Our bus ride to the Jefferson Memorial started off with our usual morning count-off. Mr. Marquez frowned as he listened to the arhythmic stop and go of the roll call process as students slowly struggled to get to number 41. On our way there, the kids took the time to answer these questions: What does it mean to be well informed, why would being well-informed mean you can be trusted, and should you be able to participate in the government if you aren’t informed?
While it was a group effort, Charlie arrived at an interesting conclusion: informed citizens can hold their government accountable. Pretty good, kids!
Like moths to a flame, a mere twenty-four hours earlier, your kids were drawn to all the trinkets touted by every airport kiosk. They were distracted by the shiny, surface level glitz of tourist kitsch, as they bestowed these items with unworthy exclamations of amazement. But what a difference even a little bit of time can make.
As we arrived at the Jefferson Memorial, those previously glazed-over, consumer-happy eyes of your kids now reflected real inquisitiveness and a desire to understand and delve deeper into the complexities of American history and its future.
The students continued their discussion from their social studies class about what it means to memorialize and revere individuals in history. Should Thomas Jefferson be memorialized? Can the man be separated from his role in history? While we did not fully answer these questions, the conversation will continue tomorrow at Monticello, and the chaperones and Close Up guides were all very impressed with the kids and their nuanced understanding of history.
Now, to this point in the blog of the trip, we’ve given the kids a bit of a hard time. But, they really impressed us here. They’re smart and inquisitive and have a real vision for the future of this country and what they hope it can be. With our teacher-spirits buoyed by your kiddos, we were off to Arlington National Cemetery.
Once off the bus, we passed through security and onto the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. The kids got their steps in by walking all the way up to the Lee house. The steep incline was challenging for some, but was made all worth it at the first signs of the beautiful horizon. The house is situated at the highest point of the Arlington gardens where every neighborhood of DC can be seen. Surrounding the house were former quarters of those enslaved. The property served as a plantation originally, but was confiscated by the Union during the Civil War. The first graves dug on the property were for Union troops who fought for emancipation.
One group also saw one of the most recent graves in the cemetery and a personal role model for them: the notorious RBG. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is buried in Supreme Court Grove and has one of the largest tombs—a permission that had to be granted by Arlington Cemetery.
We then moved onto the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At the chiming of the 12 pm bell, the changing of the guard was announced. Students were mesmerized by the orderly steps, clicking of boots, and the meticulous nature of the guards. Then, four of our WNS students—Henry B, Dawni, Magnus, and Chloe—followed the orders of the guards and walked on a path that is rarely ever walked by civilians. With grace and dignity, the four laid the wreath on the tomb, listened to Taps, and placed their hands on their hearts. It is truly an experience they will never forget.
Beyond watching the ceremony, students also discussed why the ceremony is important. Why not modernize the system of guarding the tomb? In the end, students realized the importance of honor and traditions.
Speaking of tradition, no day would be complete for your kids in DC without an opportunity to buy souvenirs from kiosks in a mall. Despite the mere 50 minutes to get their food and eat, students seemed to find a way to digest while roving up and down escalators holding bags of items that will surely appreciate in value.
With stomachs full of Starbucks, McDonald’s, Haagen Dazs, and we hope some food of substance, the kids made their way back to the bus to head to the FDR Memorial.
The designers of the FDR Memorial consciously decided to create a space accessible to those with various physical challenges, considering FDR’s own disability. While well-intended, the designers didn’t necessarily nail the landing, as some of the braille dots worked into the memorial are improperly spaced and eight feet off the ground! Despite this misstep, the students walked through the four spaces, each signifying one of FDR’s terms.
As students considered FDR’s role through the Great Depression and WWII, our guides shared with us the following quote from him: “Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another. But by all means, try something.” While FDR was faced with incredible challenges during his terms, his words ring true with our own WNS belief in growth mindset. Who knew Mr Zacuto’s squiggly line existed back in the 1930s?
Meanwhile, the two people who are self described as “the worst people at finding things,” searched the 7 acre memorial to find Chloe’s lost name badge and hotel card. One of these terrible seekers also found a missing wallet from one of our students. Shout out to Isaac, our amazing program director!
Next, students walked over to the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. One of DC’s most striking memorials, it was designed based on his quote: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” As we walked through the literal break in the mountain, students stood at the feet of his massive statue reflecting on his ideals, what he fought for, and how we stand up for our beliefs. This was a theme throughout the day and brought home by the students’ discussions about current protests and the ways in which we fight for the injustices we see in the world.
After a day of standing in the sun, our next step was a welcome respite: the Smithsonians. Students were given a choice of what museum they wanted to go to, and most students flocked to the Natural History Museum; however, a lucky few headed to the National Gallery of Art with Ms. Reimann and Jesse where they viewed the Afro Atlantic exhibit.
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, we didn’t make it to U Street or the original Ben’s Chili Bowl. We did, however, hear the story of Ben’s Chili Bowl surviving the ‘68 riots in DC, serving both protestors and emergency responders alike, and made our way to a second Ben’s Chili Bowl location on H Street. Students were treated to fresh fries and their choice of hot dogs and burgers, covered in chili, of course (and there were vegan/vegetarian options).
With full stomachs, we made our way to the final stops of the day: the WWII Memorial and the Washington Monument. It was such a treat to visit the former on the anniversary of D-Day, and with the fountains glistening in the setting sunlight, the celebration of that monumental day was palpable.
Finally, we made our way to the Spiderman Monument. Oops, I mean the Washington Monument. Fun fact: it is the only monument on the National Mall. Every other “monument” is, in fact, a memorial. Students craned their necks as they looked up at the monument and lamented that they couldn’t swing through it like Spiderman. The chaperones didn’t quite get the reference since we haven’t seen the movie.
What a day and what a shift put in by your kids. Take them away from the distraction of shiny trinkets and they become less like a moth and more like a flame. Their knowledge and application of it impressed the docents from the Jefferson Memorial to the MLK Memorial and everywhere in between. They love you and miss you (even if they won’t tell you), and they did a great job being a flame today, carrying on your legacy and that of their school.
Did we tie that all together rather nicely or are the effects of too much Ben’s Chili Bowl and too little rest starting to show? Either way, it’s off to bed! There’s a long drive to Monticello tomorrow looming over us . . .