Washington D.C. 2023


7:30am. Time for teachers to knock on doors and see if the kids were nearly ready to start the day. We quickly discovered the kids were unprepared to woefully unprepared with the exception of the room with a majority of Boy Scouts staying in it (shoutout to Levi, Agustya, and Ronan #alwaysbeprepared). But, with the reminder that breakfast was being served downstairs, the boys quickly got ready to shovel eggs and bacon down. Whether they showered or brushed their teeth cannot be confirmed.

On the girls floor, “Shake It Off” was the soundtrack of this morning’s dreaded wake-up visit Ms. Youngblood made it to each girl’s room. Not only were they disappointed to end their beauty rest but even more somber to find out they had only 30 minutes to meet in the hallway for breakfast. As Ms. Reimann and Ms. Youngblood begged girls to grab their daypacks and lanyards so we could get the coffee we desperately needed, we got “one more minute” here, “five more minutes” there, and “I thought we could skip breakfast.”

After breakfast we departed for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial where our CloseUp guides asked questions and told stories about FDR’s eventful presidency. To Mr Brannan’s relief, Zella and Phoebe quickly offered up facts about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl to make it clear to the CloseUp guides that he’s at least competent at his job . . . or at least fool them into thinking that.

As a group, we also learned that 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, spread out across 7.5 acres along the Tidal Basin.

While walking through the FDR Memorial, the chaperones roped in Editor-in-Chief of the Fly-by-Times, Phoebe, to help them with their blog.

Here’s some quotes she snagged for us as she interviewed classmates during their walk:

“I found the memorial calming.” —Trevor

“Very majestic. I like the water features and the accurate sculptures.” —Lev

“It shows a real sense of history. Makes me proud to be an American.” —Lola

“It was cool to learn the meaning behind the design.” —Charis

“Adding the statue of him in a wheelchair was a nice touch. It shows that differently-abled people can still accomplish great things.” —Matilda

“The geese are a nice touch.” —Gigi

After wrapping up at the FDR Memorial, we walked to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Memorial. Students took plenty of pictures of the surrounding monuments and scenic views, and close shots of each other (oddly close at times, like they were zooming in on microbes on each other’s faces). Someone spotted an ice cream truck and they all screamed for ice cream, to find out it was closed and sold sandwiches. But with hopeful hearts an ice cream truck did appear. 


Luckily, in between licks of ice cream, the kids had the opportunity to walk past the towering statue of Dr. King, and past the walls of inspiring quotes and symbolic elements. The memorial serves as a reminder of Dr. King’s unwavering commitment to justice, equality, and social change, inviting visitors to reflect on his extraordinary contributions to the advancement of civil rights and the ongoing struggle for a more just and inclusive society.


At the memorial, Lily, Vishnu, and Brooklyn also recorded a morning meditation utilizing one of the quotes on the memorial’s walls. It will be featured at Wednesday’s community gathering.


Next, we hopped on the bus and made our way to the Jefferson Memorial, which rests across the Tidal Basin from the MLK and FDR Memorials. 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, Nick arrived at an interesting conclusion:  informed citizens can hold their government accountable. Pretty good, kids!


At the memorial, the students carried on their discussions from their social studies class, delving into the complexities of memorializing and honoring historical figures. Specifically, they debated the merits of memorializing Thomas Jefferson and whether it is possible to separate the man from his historical role. Although we didn’t fully answer these questions, the chaperones and CloseUp guides were thoroughly impressed with the students’ nuanced understanding of history.


Jefferson’s statue symbolically looks toward the White House with a stern gaze to make sure the executive branch doesn’t overstep its bounds. Of course, a stern look doesn’t always keep people from overstepping their bounds as parents and teachers well know. 


Also of note, there were lots of helicopters flying over us while we walked through the FDR, MLK, and Jefferson memorials. Each one that passed over us was left with the same exclamation by the kids:


“It’s the President!”


Who are we to say? Maybe Joe was testing out many different helicopters and many different routes on this day. That’s certainly what the kids believed. 


Lunchtime brought us to the Reagan Building—an office building with a large food court. Despite it housing many important government offices, including the US Customs and Border Protection, the US Agency for International Development, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Due to the nature of these agencies’ work, there’s heightened security for any visitor, even those just heading to the food court. So, students left their backpacks on the bus to make the process easier and help us get to the African American Museum of History and Culture on time. (Who knew that getting a Subway sandwich could be a 45-minute wait?)


As we prepared to gather for our departure from the Reagan Building, Wyatt’s public push-up antics were finally called out by a complete stranger, a student from another school. Before we knew what was happening, they were in a push-up duel to see who could outlast the other. With a defeated sigh, Wyatt collapsed in exhaustion and conceded victory. (To be fair, Wyatt had been doing push-ups throughout the morning, so he wasn’t really fresh for this contest.) “You suck at push-ups!” she yelled at Wyatt’s retreating back.


After lunch we walked over to the African American History and Culture Museum. Some students had purchased snacks and kinder buddy gifts in the Reagan Building, and since they left their backpacks on the bus and weren’t going back to the bus at this point, they were forced to carry their newly acquired belongings by hand.


The African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C., stands as a powerful testament to the rich and diverse contributions of African Americans throughout American history. It’s one of the chaperones’ favorite stops each year. We love letting the students step into its hallowed halls where they are transported on a profound journey, spanning centuries of struggles, triumphs, and resilience. The museum’s meticulously curated exhibits chronicle the African American experience, from the dark days of enslavement to their fight for civil rights to the vibrant tapestry of contemporary African American culture. Through thought-provoking artifacts, interactive displays, and compelling stories, the museum confronts the painful legacy of racism while celebrating the indomitable spirit and cultural achievements of African Americans. It serves as a sacred space for reflection, education, and healing, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the African American heritage and its enduring impact on the fabric of American society.


After exiting the museum, we broke into groups to debrief the experience and talk about our favorite parts of the museum. Gideon commented on how he enjoyed the interactive music experience. Charis said she enjoyed the sports hall with its memorabilia and exhibits. Phoebe really enjoyed the quotes on the walls throughout the museum. Nick was in awe at how the museum was able to visibly show and provide powerful visual examples for many of the events African Americans experienced that are generally only experienced through text or speech.


After our museum experience, we had downtime on the National Mall. Ms Youngblood and Mr Young took a group of very enthusiastic students to some food trucks. Callan, who had been begging for almost 20 minutes and had to be practically dragged past one earlier in the day, was the first to jump up, run to her bag, and get her money.  Most of the group got boba or ice cream. Mr Young and Charis decided to try and find a fun food truck but both ended up just jumping on the ice cream train.   


During all the food truck commotion, there was a separate and rather sizable group desperate for some type of physical activity. Carrying around a frisbee just for this moment, Mr Shipley yelled at Aiden, “Go long!” starting an impromptu massive game of catch. After a few throws from kids around the group, it was quite apparent almost none had ever thrown a frisbee before. Even Gavin, who excels in anything athletic, looked like a fish out of water. A PE lesson broke out and there was some improvement, namely a dot of a throw from Nick completed with a Randy Moss-like catch from Gideon, but let’s just say we’ll be purchasing a football in case there needs to be another source of athletic entertainment later in the week.


As we were getting on the bus heading for dinner, Ms Reimann noticed something she’d never seen before. She pointed it out to the other chaperones. We hadn’t seen anything like it before either. It was genius. Cooper had created a shoulder sling bag out of his 8th grade hoodie. He and his friends came up with n.U.g.g.3.tTM for Cooper’s brilliant invention. Look for it soon in stores!


For dinner, we went to Busboys and Poets, where students got to have the wonderful experience of having to wait while 60 individual different portions were cooked. While waiting, one table decided to conduct a science experiment and see what happens when you combine ketchup, salt, pepper and sugar in a water cup. The answer was a mess. Another group of kids decided to play how many people can we fit at a ten-person table? (They quickly found out only ten because that’s what their chaperones told them.) Once the food came, there was an eerie silence from the students and much less talking. The chicken sandwich was the popular choice; so popular they had to make an extra special batch for the teachers.


Tomorrow, we have another packed day. We’ll be going to Ben’s Chili Bowl, Georgetown, go on a Smithsonian exploration, see a few more memorials, and head to Arlington National Cemetery where we’ll watch Christian, Jessica, Maya Kate, and Levi lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier. We can’t wait!

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