Washington D.C. 2023-24

– Mr. Brannan & the 8th Grade Chaperones


The girls may have gotten a little overconfident about timeliness from being up on time yesterday. As Mrs. Rod sat at a chair in the hallway, the conversation overheard in the rooms made it clear breakfast was not happening at 8am – “I am so tired. We can be a little late for breakfast.” “Ugh, I don’t have time to do my hair!”


On the boys’ side, waking up and being ready for the day was better than yesterday. Of course, the bar was set pretty low. Most rooms were still late to breakfast and one of them will be handing Mr. Brannan their TV remote for the night.


While Mr. Brannan was waiting on the final boys’ room to get ready, he heard an alarm go off in Liam, Jaxon, Eli, and Ollie’s room. It was set an hour later than the suggested wake-up time, but at least an attempt was made. Or, as Mr. Zacuto would put it, they haven’t quite figured out how to properly use an alarm clock . . . yet. Of course, that squiggly line feels like a long road as you stand in an empty hotel hallway, knocking on that last boys’ room door that still isn’t ready as breakfast time ticks away.


After breakfast, our first stop of the day was the US Air Force Memorial. The spires of the memorial reach over 400 feet into the sky. The spires take on the shape of the contrails in a “bomb burst” maneuver, only the fourth contrail isn’t present to symbolize a missing pilot, the reason for the memorial’s construction.


In what has become an annual tradition, Mr. Brannan wandered between groups of students casually mentioning that the Air Force Memorial was built for Goose from Top Gun. Maybe it was because it was early in the morning, but no student really pushed back on this falsehood, except Evan. Good for you Evan. Always look skeptically at your source of information until you can corroborate the information presented to you. (This last point will be drilled home in social studies this year. I guess we’ll call Mr. Brannan’s shenanigans lesson one.)


Our next stop was the African American Museum of History and Culture (AAMHC). The museum houses over 36,000 artifacts related to African American history. 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. It serves as a space for reflection, education, and healing, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of African American heritage and culture and its enduring impact on the fabric of American society.


A nice, intended benefit of moving the 8th grade DC Trip to the fall was to be able to navigate museums and monuments without having to fight through cumbersome crowds. For the first time since running the trip, our group got straight into the AAMHC without waiting. We also had the opportunity to take our time as we moved through the exhibits without being moved through it more quickly than we’d like to accommodate the crowds. Each exhibit in the museum was also accessible, as there were no long lines deterring the students from experiencing what they wanted to learn about and see. 


Upon exiting the museum, students were asked to reflect on the exhibits they saw. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say:


Christina:  The story and life of Emmett Till was really sad and seeing his mom crying really affected me. I found inspiration that his story is used as a call to action to continue the fight for equal rights. 


Konner & Maximus:  The train car was powerful with the voices of what conversations were like back during segregation. The conversations in the white section seemed free. The conversations in the Black car showed how much Black people had to watch their back in the south because the laws were against them. 


Jack:  I liked the interactive part of the music exhibit on the upper floors. It was fun to make my own beats. 


Dylan:  The sports section was amazing. They had such cool memorabilia. 


Shiloh:  The Emmett Till exhibit was so sad but it was incredibly powerful. Same with the lunch counter exhibit showing the sit-ins and Freedom Riders. 


Mrs. Rod dropped in on a conversation between Bennett, Dylan, Jack, and Gabe. They had chosen the question: “What works of art, literature, music, or media were created to help African American voices be heard? What ideas did they share?” In the discussion, Bennett noted how  African Americans worked hard to show the world that their music is to be listened to and can show lots of emotions. Dylan made the connection that African American music also was a form of protest, and Jack and Gabe agreed that the music and literary works produced helped show the world the need to take a stand against racism.


Additionally, Liam and Ollie proudly procured some incredibly large pencils in the museum gift shop, which they enjoyed sharpening. We hope to see them use these for their learning guides this week. 


After our reflection, we hopped on the buses to head to lunch. We were dropped off at the African American Civil War Memorial before walking over to Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street, a fitting place to have lunch after spending our morning at the NMAAHC. Ben’s Chili Bowl is more than a place to grab a quick lunch or indulge in a late-night snack. As the kids settled into their seats, they were served chili cheese fries, chili burgers, half smokes, and an assortment of other items that Mr. Zacuto will ask them to describe in detail upon their return to WNS, so he can live vicariously through their food experiences. While they ate, a video played informing them of the unique history of Ben’s. They learned about the role it played as a safe haven for protestors during the ‘68 riots after Dr. King’s assassination and its role during the rise of the DC Go-Go music scene and the Don’t Mute DC Movement (#makegogoforever). From Jimmy Fallon to Barack Obama, the kids also enjoyed seeing the various celebrities and dignitaries who have visited Ben’s over the years. Here are some of their reviews:


Rishi: Ben’s Chili Bowl was the most goated restaurant I’ve gone to all year. I’m probably not going to forget it was actually good food and fun. 10 out 10, 5 star restaurant.


Ben: Ben’s Chili Bowl was amazing also named after me, 10 out of 10. The energy in the room was just fun, and made the day better. 


Evan: I really liked that there was food right after we sat down, liked the vibes, would go again for the fries. 10 out 10. 


Izzy: The food was really good, but I’m scared about the potential repercussions. It was a HEAVY meal. Rating TBD depending on the events of the next 24hrs. 


After Ben’s, we returned to the African American Civil War Memorial where a gentleman wearing a Union soldier uniform gave the students an impromptu lesson on the Emancipation Proclamation, the experience of the 200,000+ Black troops who fought during the Civil War, the spy network that Harriet Tubman worked, and much more. While this wasn’t a planned part of the itinerary, many students eagerly jumped at the opportunity to learn more about his part of US History. 


Vince:  I learned about some of what was said by watching the movie Glory, but I learned even more facts and information. 


Lila B:  I’d been to so many of the places that he mentioned where Black regiments were recruited or fought. It was interesting to learn there was more history in those places than I knew about before. 


Next, we went to The Smithsonian exploration. On the way there, students were eager to know more about our state’s appointee being sworn into the senate, Ms. Butler. She was sworn into office today at The Capitol by our Vice President, Kamala Harris. It is a historic moment. They waved and cheered toward the capitol building on our drive to the Smithsonian. 


Our first stop was the Natural History Museum as a group before students were given the choice to go view the National Gallery of Art (NGA) or the National Museum of American History (NMAH). The Natural History Museum is always a hit, and this year was no exception. Some students wandered the dinosaur hall. Some viewed the wing on underwater life. But, one part of the museum attracted every student like a moth to a flame:  the museum gift shop.


The gift shops at the NGA and the NMAH didn’t receive the same amount of attention. Perhaps the students were too enamored in the exhibits at the museums they were interested in visiting. Perhaps they weren’t as interested in what those gift shops had to offer. Or, perhaps they are running low on funds. It’s only Tuesday. Hopefully, it’s not the latter.


Here are two comments on our Smithsonian exploration:


Caroline on the NGA:  It was really cool and I liked all the art and sculpting. I loved how many rooms there were and the variety.


Ralphy on the NMAH:  I feel like I need to write an apology letter to enter. They have a whole wing on their grievances with Britain, and a giant flag displayed from the War of 1812.


After our museum exploration, we hopped on the bus to head to Georgetown. On the way, the Close Up guides told our students about the neighborhood’s history and told them where they could eat. Once they were done, the students started their own conversations:


Izzy:  Mr Brannan look up a picture of a chickpea on your phone. They don’t know what a chickpea is. . . . See that’s a chickpea!


Ezeh:  That’s a donut hole! 


Izzy:  Ugh . . . fine. Mr Brannan, look up a falafel.


Tyler:  Why is it green on the inside? Eww!


Suffice it to say, Izzy wasn’t able to talk anyone into going to a Mediterranean restaurant tonight. 


While preparing to exit the bus in Georgetown, a student in the back asked, “Is there a Sephora? 


Our Close Up guide responded, “Yes,” to his immediate regret, as shrill screams of delight erupted up and down the aisles.


While the kids excitedly got off the bus to hopefully head to dinner (aka shop at Sephora or buy candy at CVS), Mr. Brannan helped Nolan and Lila B. meet up with family who live on the East Coast. It’s always nice facilitating reunions!

We ended our day with a group deliberation about the Second Amendment and gun reform policy options. Students respectfully debated on the “hotel” floor. Here are some of their arguments:

Jack:  You’ll have to make it harder to get, trust to give them firearms …a person should be able to help themselves before it’s too late, so if they have a firearm they should use it for self-defense. 

Raven:  Mistakes happen, children having accidents with guns, self-defense…there should be a warning shot. 

Liv:  I know that you’re not allowed to bring guns to airports, can’t legally bring them into public spaces. Only certain people should use it or can use it…I’m all for policy #1: the government should give money to states that have red flag laws. 

Dylan:  Policy #3 is the most necessary policy because if people are robbed they should be able to defend themselves. They need to be able to hold their ground.

Gabe:  Would you rather own a chainsaw or a flame thrower?

Cyrus:  I think people shouldn’t have the right at all because of current school shootings and other shootings that have affected so many families.

Ezeh:  The government should create safer policies around gun storage so children are less likely to cause accidental harm. 

Galli:  Guns should be confiscated and destroyed due to multiple tragedies that have happened recently and in the past.

Jackson:  There should be intense background checks when purchasing a fireman. 

Liam:  I think you either have guns or not. There’s no in-between. 

Ollie:  I think we should raise the age to buy guns because there are more accidents with younger people who have access to guns. 

Vince:  I believe less people should have guns. There needs to be more protections for everyone’s safety. 

Shiloh:  I feel like background checks aren’t always useful because there are easy ways around them. 

Nolan:  I think people should have a clean criminal record to be able to access a gun and it should be unloaded safely at home.

Sasha:  There are policies that may not allow some to buy guns which could put them in a bad situation if another purchased one from the black market and there’s no self-defense for individual ones. 

Violetta:  Ketchup belongs on everything. 

All insightful thoughts, comments, and discussions today; some are a bit more light-hearted than others. Nevertheless, we ended our day with all smiles and laughs. 


Tomorrow we will visit Capitol Hill, The National Archives, and The International Spy Museum. More soon to come. Stay tuned.