Washington D.C. 2023-24

– Mr. Brannan & the 8th Grade Chaperones


Hello from DC! The morning here got off to a slow start . . . mostly for the boys. Mr Brannan needed an extra 30 minutes to wrangle all the boys out of their rooms and get them downstairs for breakfast. Who knew that it would take such coercing to get teenage boys to go eat food? These same boys are always so quick to let us know when our classes are over and it’s time for lunch or snack.


After breakfast, we boarded our buses to head to the FDR Memorial. On the way, the chaperones overheard a conversation between students comparing their bedtimes.






“Not till after the football game ended. And the soccer game. And then South Park. I’m not sure what time it was.”


We won’t include the names of those quoted above, mostly because if you’re a parent of the last one, you probably know who they are. 


Upon arrival at the FDR Memorial, students broke into workshop groups to discuss what a government should do for its citizens in need. They then had the opportunity to walk through the memorial designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. Comprised of four outdoor spaces to represent FDR’s terms as president, the memorial incorporates many elements that can be experienced by people with disabilities. Students had fun discovering these elements, especially the braille lettering and cast iron faces that are meant to be touched. 


We then walked down to the MLK Memorial. Before entering the memorial plaza, students discussed what life was like before and after the Civil Rights Movement and what justice and the fight for justice looked like. Upon entering the plaza, students couldn’t help but turn their gaze upward at the magnificent sculpture of Dr King emerging from a stone mountain. This sculpture designed by Lei Yixin was famously inspired by one of Dr King’s many memorable quotes. Around the rest of the plaza, fourteen other memorable quotes of Dr King are inscribed, many of which caught the attention of your kiddos. 


Sloane:  I enjoyed the quote we learned about before entering the memorial space:  “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” I think this would make a big difference 


Izzy:  The quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that,” really stuck with me. It really defines his message of equality for all and the methods he used to try to achieve it. 


Bennett:  The one that stood out to me was, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” There is such truth to these words and power too, and he delivers such a big message in a single sentence.


After MLK, we hopped on the bus to view the Jefferson Memorial, with its iconic dome and stunning view of the Tidal Basin. Your kids had an insightful discussion about whether figures like Jefferson should be memorialized given their problematic pasts. Though we didn’t come to any definitive conclusions, we appreciated the chance to wrestle with these important ethical questions, and will bring this discussion back to the classroom at WNS.


After fruitful discussions at the morning memorial visits, we headed for a much-needed lunch at the Reagan Building. On the bus ride there, lunch vouchers were passed out that allowed students to receive a meal from a restaurant of their choice in the food court. They didn’t really understand this concept.


“You mean, we give them a piece of paper and they give us something for free?”


Even though they didn’t understand this (or see the link to paper money or make a connection to a particular FDR program), they were so happy to be able to walk up and down the food court, taking in their various options, before finally all deciding to go to Subway.


After scarfing down their subs, students quickly went to grab a few coveted items they saw on their walk toward the food court:  prime drinks and candy from the gift store. And grab them they did till there were barely any of these options left in stock in the entire store. Let it be known that in the year 2023, the day the gift shop in the Reagan Building basement went from the red to the black was Oct. 2nd.


Students who weren’t too busy depleting their cash reserves were drawn to Ms Scarlett who brought a yo-yo with her on the trip. She taught them a few tricks, which surprisingly kept them occupied and excited to get one of their own. (So much for trying to maintain those cash reserves!)


While your kids were preoccupied, Nate and Mrs Rod took a quick walk to a nearby Starbucks for critical chaperone reserves. Upon their return, the kids were very jealous. Lila B was the first to notice, followed by many shout-outs of “ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?” or “Can I have a sip?”


At Arlington National Cemetery, Violetta was visited by her grandma, aunt, and uncle. We also watched Sasha, Nolan, Liv, and Ezeh proudly bring the school for the Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This is what they had to say after the experience: 


Sasha:  I was nervous at first till the guard broke character, like when he was giving us instructions, tripped over his words and smirked before getting serious again. Before that moment, I wondered if he just had a stern face all the time, even when he’d sleep!


Nolan:  The build-up was stressful. Once we got started, though, it wasn’t so bad.


Liv:  With all my friends there to cheer me on, it was hard to keep a straight face. I wanted to smile, but I knew I had to be serious.


Ezeh:  It was easy in the end.  (Quick aside from Mr Brannan:  Ezeh left one of his nice shoes at the hotel and forgot his belt. But, he never got flustered and still did great!)


After the Wreath Laying Ceremony ended, we departed for the National Portrait Gallery. To our surprise, the atrium of the gallery was filled up with enthusiastic stamp collectors awaiting the official release of the Ruth Bader Ginsberg Forever Stamp. While we weren’t allowed to watch the ceremony, a few of us snagged some merch that was freely handed out. As we headed upstairs to the portrait gallery, we were met with “The Four Justices,” the stunning painting of Justice O’Conner, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan by Nelson Shanks. 


We also had time to head into the galleries. The Presidential Portrait exhibit was the clear favorite. A WNS fan favorite was seeing the incredible portrait of President Obama by contemporary artist, Kehinde Wiley. But many students also explored various exhibits. Some of the memorable artists were Rockwell, O’Keefe, Homer, and Cassatt.


For dinner, students were allowed to choose a place in Chinatown. Popular spots were: Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, and Shake Shack. The students were ecstatic about having dinner with their group of friends. Yes, I know. Somehow a Chinese food restaurant didn’t make the top three most-visited restaurants while we were in Chinatown.


After dinner, we ended our night at the World War II Memorial and Washington Monument. The World War II Memorial was designed with 56 pillars—one pillar for each US state and territory at the time of the war—and a pair of arches surrounding the fountain. 


At the Washington Monument, students stared up in awe of the 555-foot-tall monument. Meanwhile, Mrs. Rod and Raven had a spirited conversation about a book series they are both reading and looked for the nearest bookstore to procure Raven the next book in the series.


Once we returned back to the hotel, we debriefed as usual. We discussed what we did well and what we could improve upon as a group, and then the chaperones took a moment to remind students of the beautiful puberty journey they are on, and the critical need for hygiene including daily showers and deodorant. The boys were highly encouraged (or threatened) to get ready on time in the morning or risk their TV remote being taken away from their rooms. They better stop watching football and cartoons.


Lastly, we ended our night with a dance performance led by our incredible theatre arts teacher! This dance was inspired by a TikTok video. Everyone enjoyed all the smiles and laughs before heading back to their hotel rooms. What a fun-filled day!


As for tomorrow, students get to look forward to visiting the U.S. Air Force Memorial, touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture, eating at the famous Ben’s Chili Bowl, and exploring the Natural History Museum before ending the night with a Georgetown Neighborhood exploration and dinner.