Washington D.C. 2023-24

– Mr. Brannan & the 8th Grade Chaperones


We ended breakfast today with a sentimental moment as a class. Your eighth graders shared special memories they’ve had over the past few days. Christina shared how much fun she had with friends in Georgetown. Vince has had the best time bonding with his roommates at the hotel and inside museums. Hearing what they had to say, we’re sure the memories they are making m with each other and in this trip will have a positive effect on the rest of the year and provide them with happy memories they can look back on for years to come. 


After breakfast, we boarded the bus to stop at the Marine Corps Memorial. Officially dedicated in 1954, the memorial depicts the famous flag raising at Iwo Jima during World War II. Felix de Weldon designed the striking bronze statue based on the iconic, Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal. At an imposing height of 78 feet, the memorial shows six 32-foot tall figures raising the flag on Mount Suribachi. The memorial is a tribute to the valor and sacrifices of the Marine Corps during their victory at Iwo Jima. With its massive scale and realistic detail, the monument vividly captures a pivotal moment for the Marines during World War II that came to symbolize their dedication and bravery. 


Being on the banks of the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, looking up at this massive memorial has always been an impactful experience for WNS kids, and this year is no exception, particularly as our arrival lined up perfectly with real Marines raising an American flag up the pole of the memorial. 


The flag vaulted toward the sky, drawing every eye that gazed upon it upward to the American flag before those eyes fell down on the cast iron soldier faces, their grimaces, their tiredness, their determination to do their duty and finish the task given to them no matter the cost, and every man depicted in this statue paid a heavy cost, most of them the ultimate cost. As your students walked around this memorial, they too could feel that cost to some degree. That’s the power of this memorial, a quick, near-accidental photograph taken on a rocky island in the Pacific now transformed into a powerful piece of art.


While the Marine Corps Memorial captures the sacrifices of so many during their time in the Pacific Theatre in World War II, it was a fitting way to begin our morning. Our next stop on the itinerary was the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.


On the bus ride to the museum, the kids discussed the warning signs of genocide, particularly (but not limited to) the warning signs leading up to the Holocaust. A few years ago, Mr. Brannan read the results of a survey that indicated nearly two-thirds of young adults in the US aren’t aware that 6 million Jewish people were exterminated during the Holocaust. Nearly half of those surveyed could not name a single concentration or death camp. Nearly a quarter had some belief or impression the Holocaust was exaggerated or a myth or were unsure about it in some capacity. That’s why places like the US Holocaust Memorial Museum must exist, why we must remember what happened, and why it must be taught and taught effectively. 


Like the African American Museum of History and Culture we visited on Tuesday, the Holocaust Memorial Museum knocks the wind out of you; it grabs you by the collar and shakes you. And it should!


Luckily, your 8th graders are excellent at engaging in discussions about what humans in the past did wrong and how we, as a society, need to be better moving forward. They are bombarded with more misinformation than we ever were growing up. In the same survey mentioned above, over half of young people reported seeing the Nazi symbol in social media posts, and nearly half reported seeing posts about Holocaust denial. Similar misinformation can be seen on social media pushing forward a false narrative about the Civil War and Reconstruction and the race-based American institution of slavery that was codified into American laws. But, because your students are so readily able to engage with the horrors of our past, since they’re quickly developing the ability to look critically at false information they see online and peddled by bad actors, we have no doubt they’ll be ready to stand up to bad information and combat it. They certainly won’t be influenced by it. They inspire us, their teachers, that there is the possibility for a brighter future guided by their hands, their hearts, and their minds. 


After exiting the museum, the kids reflected on what they’d seen—


Eli:  the exhibit on Americans and the Holocaust stuck with me. Seeing that there was a debate about what was going on and if we should help or not is something I didn’t know a lot about. 


Sasha:  I could watch the videos or even look at some of the photos. 


Ezeh:  I knew it was bad but not that bad. There were so many ghettos where people were separated at first and then later many were massacred. 


Cyrus:  The videos of bulldozers pushing dead bodies into mass graves was ridiculous. Hard to imagine someone killing all those people. 


Harper:  It all felt overwhelming. There was so much to be sad about. 


Nolan:  What stood out to me was the exhibit on Nazi experiments. Why would people do that to other people?!


In English, the students will circle back to the causes and effects of the Holocaust as they begin their novel study on Night by Elie Wiesel next semester. Students will continue to answer essential questions about the individual and identity as we learn about Elie and all he endures. 


After finishing our debrief, we went to L’Enfant Plaza for lunch. Our plan was to eat in the cafeteria of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), but unfortunately, it was closed for renovations. The kids didn’t seem to mind, however, since there isn’t a Starbucks in the NMAI and there was at L’Enfant. 


As we boarded the bus to head to the NMAI, Jack realized he left his bag behind. One of the Close Up guides went with him to retrieve it. Building security had already collected it and put it in their lost and found, but proving the backpack was quite a long process. While the students on the bus waited for him to return, they started making up a rap song about what was taking so long. It’s amazing how, without their phones, they tap into their own creativity to keep entertained. 


Once Jack returned with his backpack, we departed for the NMAI to explore its exhibits, which luckily remained open. The NMAI is part of the Smithsonian Institution and opened on the National Mall in 2004. Designed by First Nations architects from Canada, it houses over 825,000 objects related to the diversity and history of Native American culture across the North American continent. Exhibits on several floors showcase artifacts like pottery, ivory carvings, and beadwork along with contemporary Native art, and the top floor houses exhibits on the history of European contact with Native Americans from its beginnings.


Students started on the top floor, in order to complete an assignment Mr. Brannan made for them as they moved through the exhibit on the policy of Indian Removal and how various tribes resisted this process. To Brannan’s delight, the students really engaged in the assignment he made for them to complete, which will help enrich the lessons on early American history they will complete upon returning to WNS. 


After the NMAI, we went to a community action seminar where Youth Service America’s Katie Reusch spoke to us about how young people just like them are actively volunteering and creating change in their communities and how they can do so as well. Luckily, through the SPLASH and SWIM projects and their wonderful parents, your kids certainly know a lot about volunteering and giving back to their communities. Youth Service America, however, does more than educate. It provides logistics, funding, and scholarships for students who have identified an issue in their community and have come up with an actionable plan to address that issue. It’s an organization worth checking out. 


Here’s a bit of what your kids talked about during the seminar— 

Izzie, Lila, and Raven shared their volunteer experiences. 

Our facilitator asked our students what their Spark is and these were some of the responses: 

Maddie: music, singing, acting, musicals, and writing songs, after she said it she looked at Mr. Nate 

Aubrey: sports and making people laugh

Rishi: music, art, and making people laugh

Gabriel: video games

Lila: playing the guitar

Elijah: life below the water

Claire: neurodiversity and helping others with neurodiversity with socializing 

Our next stop was Lafayette Park, located directly between the White House and Black Lives Matter Plaza. Upon arriving in the park, students broke into workshop groups where they discussed Lafayette Park’s unique history with Americans expressing their First Amendment rights. On the very ground they stood, Americans—from Women’s Suffrage to Black Lives Matter protestors—not only expressed this right but fought to protect it over the years. If you look in the photo folder, you’ll also find a group photo we took in the park with the White House in the background. 


After our group photo, students were given free time to explore the park and walk up to the fence surrounding the White House grounds. Then, the music started. Soon, WNS was creating its own dance floor right in front of the White House. We’d like to think we gave Joe Biden and his staff a little chuckle as they walked past the windows. After our dance party concluded, students returned to their workshop groups to walk through Black Lives Matter Plaza before circling back around to our bus to head to Dupont Circle for dinner. 


Once we got off the bus, students were given directions about where they could and could not go and were told to go find something healthy to eat. The chaperones dispersed as well and Mr. Brannan was given the task to stop by CVS to get thank you cards for our tour and bus drivers. Upon entering, he saw half the students in the candy aisle. When they saw him, they scattered like cockroaches when a light turns on. He’s pretty sure they still made out with half the sugar supply of Dupont Circle. 


After dinner, we made it to the Kennedy Center just in time to see some fireworks. Why were there fireworks? Maybe for WNS’ last night in DC! It’s as good a guess as any. After taking in the fireworks and the view from the Kennedy Center roof, we settled into our seats to watch “Shear Madness.”


The kids had a blast watching the play. They had such fun trying to solve the interactive murder mystery, and many of them were quite perceptive picking up on the clues . . . the ridiculous clues. How much they influenced the outcome of the play, we’re not sure, but the majority of them cheered at the final reveal . . . as is to be expected, we suppose.


And that wraps up things up for today! Tonight is our final night in DC, but we still have a busy day tomorrow before our cross-country flight back home. In the morning, we’ll visit Mount Vernon before going to Old Town Alexandria for lunch. Then, we’ll stop by the Udvar Hazy Center on our way to Dulles to board United Airlines Flight #1488 (track it!).


See you tomorrow night 8th Grade Parents,


The Chaperones