Washington D.C. 2023
Last night as we typed up this blog in Mr Brannan’s hotel room, Mr Shipley drew the short straw and was forced to go around to the boys’ rooms to help them clean up their spaces and pack away their dirty clothes. This was no small task either. As Mr Young was walking down the hallway last night, he noticed one of the boys’ rooms doors was open, and as he approached, he was hit with a funk. Now, we’d like to say it was a go-go music-type of funk the kids had picked up after their visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl yesterday, but this funk didn’t hit his ears, it hit his nostrils. And why was the room door open? Because those boys couldn’t even stand the smell themselves. They were trying to air out their room!
So, we’re thankful for Mr Shipley for completing that task, even though he was forced into it. We hope that he’s not a shadow of himself today after what he saw and smelled last night.
Okay, onto Wednesday . . .
After breakfast, the kids were split into groups to deliberate a current issue being discussed in Congress: gun policy in the US. Unlike in Congress, however, the discussions were more nuanced, they actually listened to what each other were saying, and they were willing to concede certain points based on facts. That’s not to say they agreed on everything, but it didn’t result in unnecessary bickering. One group’s passion for arguing even carried over into our next bus ride and our walk to the next stop.
Here are some of their thoughts:
Wyatt: Change is difficult. It doesn’t often happen immediately. It’ll be a long complicated process, especially if we try to make everyone happy.
Gideon: To end gun violence with an outright ban is necessary. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.
Lily: Suicide and mass shootings are a big issue and gun control should take into account getting guns out of the hands of people who might take their own life and others.
Charis: Guns should be for the armed forces only, leaving people who want to fend for themselves with stun guns, so there are no deaths.
Jessica: Stand your ground laws make the most sense, it prevents further issues from starting.
Levi: The government should be in charge of gun production and allow people to shoot at gun ranges that are approved by the government. Normal civilians should have access to rubber guns to lessen fatalities.
Caleb: I think guns should be illegal because of how high the kill count has been.
Jake: They should make sure you verify your age before selling guns.
Max: A federal background check is the best option to lower casualties.
Christian: Stand your ground laws have caused some problems throughout our nation. It creates more violence from what I have seen.
Riley: The first policy that should be passed is universal background checks but red flag laws are just as important. They go hand in hand.
Ava: Red Flag laws could help people with mental illness and can decrease things like suicide and self harm.
Liam: Background checks are great but might cost people more money in private sales and there needs to be an easy way for someone to get into the background check system.
Paige: I like that we were all able to have a voice in this simulation and that we were all able to speak for our group at least once.
After our deliberation, we boarded the bus for the Rayburn House Office Building where Rep. Adam Schiff set aside time from his day to speak with our students. His office confirmed in the morning he’d be available for ten minutes. He stayed for twenty. At first, he gave a broad overview to the students about his job and the laws they’d recently passed. Then, he allowed them to ask questions, even turning away his scheduler at one point to take more.
The questions they asked him were about why he got into politics, gun violence, and broadly about other pressing issues facing America today. Rep. Schiff responded to each question with a measured response, taking particular time to talk about ways to address gun violence, protect American democracy, make the current economy work for the average person, and the necessity of protecting our environment. The kids listened to his words, and even if they all didn’t fully grasp how big of a deal it was to be having a dialogue with Rep. Schiff in the moment, we know that they’ll look back on this occasion and cherish the fact that they were given this opportunity. We’d like to extend a huge thank-you to Patrick Fischler, Lauren Bowles, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for making this meeting possible!
After speaking with Rep. Schiff, we walked around the Capitol building so students could see the heart of American democracy. While we were still a little bummed we wouldn’t be getting a tour of the building, the students still looked up at the dome of the building with some wonder. It really is a cool and massive building to look up at in person.
After lunch, we headed to a Community Action Seminar where the students heard from a member of Youth Service America, a person who helps young people find their voice and launch projects on a large scale, similar to the ones our 8th graders completed on a small scale for their SWIM project.
After her presentation, students were asked what are some reasons why they volunteer. They responded accordingly:
Josh: “When others are happy, I’ll be happy.”
Christian: “Being from a privileged background, I want to help those less privileged.”
Jake: “I like to see the direct impact I can have.”
Jessica: “Seeing issues that could be improved in the place where I live.“
Wyatt: “I like to volunteer because I like that warm feeling it gives me.”
After the YSA presentation, we all hopped back on the bus and made our way to the National Archives where there were original copies of the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Constitution. Most were amazed and very excited with the exception of a couple who described them as, “old pieces of paper.” Though that was the main attraction, there were three other exhibits, namely one that featured sports memorabilia, like an original Green Bay Packers contract for $110 a game. Ironically (or maybe unironically), this captivated those most uninterested in our nation’s founding documents.
Our next stop on today’s schedule was the White House, and some students were also able to visit nearby Black Lives Matter Plaza. Students got some information about more recent events in these spaces and briefly discussed the importance of the right to protest in a democracy. This is, of course, another iconic place for photos, and students made good use of our time there.
At the Nationals Game students fed off the excitement of the chaperones. From yelling anytime Mr Shipley and Mr Young yelled toward the field, students seemed to be most entertained by all the food options available, specifically Dippin’ Dots ice cream. There was also a large following that grew for the Nationals left fielder, Lane Thomas, by some of our students. Later on we found out the following was only for the possibility that a ball might be thrown in our direction. Unfortunately, even with all the attempts, no ball was thrown our way.
After the 7th inning stretch, we decided to start the wave. We roped in some other school tour groups in the sections around us and soon we had nearly half the stadium joining along with us. But, each and every time, the wave stopped in the section where the Nationals Champions Club resides. Our only conclusion: there’s no heart of a champion in that club anymore. The Nationals fans just don’t have it.
Tomorrow, we will visit Mount Vernon and explore and eat lunch in Old Town Alexandria. In the afternoon, we’ll head to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, followed by reflection and some downtime at the National Mall with games led by Mr Shipley. Dinner will take place in Chinatown, and night memorial visits will end our busy Thursday, and last full day in DC.
Your 8th grade chaperones