Clara Graduates From Tufts!
Clara Etchegaray (‘14) recently graduated with a major in International Relations Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University. We are so proud of Clara and happy to have been a part of her educational journey!
Clara Graduates From Tufts!
Clara Etchegaray (‘14) recently graduated with a major in International Relations Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University. We are so proud of Clara and happy to have been a part of her educational journey!
True Jackson (‘18) is featured in Forbes! The article describes True’s dreams of performing her first indie pop album (recorded in 2020 during the height of the pandemic) for a live audience. It reads, “Despite all the struggles of creating an album throughout quarantine she never seemed daunted by her dreams and the challenge to make them come true… One year after releasing “Simulation,” Jackson’s album of original songs chronicling life as a teenager in a sudden virtual world, she yearned to connect with an audience. Live and in person. Her wish was to perform her surprisingly upbeat songs about what her generation had been experiencing and the isolation they felt…” True took matters into her own hands and threw a free backyard show to finally play the music from her album. The show was a success and gave her a new vision, to help other young artists get out there. Jackson’s second show became an art fest with all female bands and local artists. True says she grew up with severe stage fright but when on stage and the crowd is jumping and singing is when she’s most fearless. The stage time and experience performing has paid off. Most recently Jackson was invited to play a show at the music venue The Mint in April. True had her start performing on stage at WNS. She is now off to The New School in NY to study Contemporary Music and Business
Somehow, over the course of the week, a majority of rooms unlearned how to set their hotel alarm clocks, and half of the rooms the chaperones knocked on in the morning did not appear to have packed their bags last night. Mr Brannan considered tossing bags of confectionaries into each room after witnessing the hypnotic rush they induced in your kids last night to give them a kick start, but then he remembered he’d be on a bus with them again in an hour and half. Not worth it! The repetition of good, old-fashioned encouraging ‘lets-get-a-move-ons’ would have to suffice.
We had breakfast before final room checks. Whether it was the ample availability of syrup and waffles or the prospect of getting back home, there didn’t seem to be a sad kid in the whole bunch, at least not yet.
Just before 9am, the final room checks commenced. For the most part, the boys’ rooms were surprisingly tidy, but there were a few rooms that had been funkified, and not in the DC go-go music kind of way but in the overcompensating with Axe-spray instead of showering kind of way. If the girls’ rooms were untidy or smelly, they did a good job of straightening things up before Mrs Reimann or Mrs Abo knocked.
Once the rooms were checked, we took our bags to the bus and headed to the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. The kids wandered the space, with some commenting on the symbolism and thoughtfulness of the design and thinking more deeply about the memorials they created as part of a joint social studies and English project earlier this year.
From there, we headed to the National Archives Building. Established in 1934 by FDR, the archives houses the three most important foundational documents of the United States: The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Seeing who flocked to what document first was interesting or random, we’re a bit uncertain, but we think we gained a little bit of insight into some of the kids by the choice they made the moment they entered the rotunda where those documents are stored.
Afterward, we sat on the grass outside the building and reflected on our time in DC. We’d seen more sites in 6 days than the average resident of the DC area sees in a decade. The kids were challenged to consider the problematic pasts of people who were instrumental in founding our country and pushing it forward. They were challenged to think about the issues they value, what to prioritize and why, what it means to be an activist, and much more. In all instances, they rose to the challenge and embraced it. For many of the chaperones on the trip, it was amazing to see how much they’d learned and evolved over their years at WNS, and we’re excited to see what they accomplish in the future once they leave us.
And that’s it! We’re basically done here, but we’ll leave you with some final nuggets—the things we learned about your kids on the trip and the their favorite things or main takeaways from their time in our Nation’s capital:
Here’s what the chaperones learned about your kids—
Here are the students’ main takeaways, favorite parts, or both—
Mele Faiva Corral-Blagojevich (’19) recently committed to Oklahoma for volleyball, and will join her best friend, Ella Parker (softball), as WNS’s most recent Sooner!
Congrats, Mele! We are so proud of you!
After all the talk about activism and changemaking yesterday, it’s fitting that today we headed to Capitol Hill. As for breakfast . . . well, we’ve talked about breakfast enough for a six-day blog about a class trip to DC. The kids were well fed. We promise!
Since we were on the way to the “building where it happens,” we began our morning by looking at contemporary issues and topics Close Up provided us that Congress is currently debating and attempting to create policy for. This Congressional deliberation workshop had the students broken into five focus groups: economic inequality, climate change, health care, criminal justice, and education. After having some time to discuss these issues in their small groups, they came together to present their thoughts on why these issues should be prioritized in government and deliberated about what should be prioritized first.
Noah: “Providing education to more people. This will affect all the issues we’re discussing.”
Olivia: “Climate change must be prioritized because soon it will be irreversible.”
Dawni: “I agree. The other issues are extremely important, but if the climate is ruined, the other issues won’t matter. We will have time, hopefully, to address them later. As for education, that will take too long, especially when it comes to climate change. By the time people are fully educated on climate change and want to do something about it, it will be too late.”
Sam S: “Criminal justice reform should be prioritized. We can do something about it now. And, people will like that and re-elect us. Then we can also address other things.”
Sam M: “Better healthcare needs to be prioritized. We can help people now. We can help them stay alive. Those people can help us solve those issues.”
Gavin: “What happens if kids aren’t educated? What happens if they don’t know the issues? They need to be knowledgeable and smart. That will help our future. That will help them vote for better issues and presidents.”
Leila: “Our group decided to change to climate change instead of education. It will soon be irreversible. It’s essential we do something impactful now to save not just the US but the entire world.”
Aylin: “Climate change affects everyone. These other policies are centered on what can be done in the US about certain issues. Combating climate change can be useful for everyone in the world and help the US with making more friends with countries.”
After wrapping our discussion, we headed to Capitol Hill. Our meeting with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office was canceled, but that allowed us some time to walk over to the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism during World War II. Our kids felt a strong connection to this monument immediately, having had many great opportunities to listen to Mrs Nakawatase, Mr Umekubo, and the various other faculty members and Japanese Americans in our school community whose families and friends were directly affected by the US government’s decision to forcibly evacuate and intern over 100,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry in guarded, isolated camps around the country a little over 80 years ago.
From there we walked to the Library of Congress, which is absolutely stunning! The kids marveled at the artwork and sculptures adorning the halls. (Zoë literally shrieked quietly in anticipation.) Students viewed the reading room with jealousy—since they weren’t allowed in without an official reader identification card—and toured the exhibits.
We saw some of the books Thomas Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress after the War of 1812. (A previous post mentioned he donated those books. He did not. He definitely needed the money. He was swimming in debt.) When Jefferson offered to sell his personal library to them, he wrote in a letter, “I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from this collection . . . there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer,” which almost seems like a veiled insult. But at the same time, can you imagine any member of our Congress today leisurely reading the tomes of philosophy and science Jefferson and many of his contemporaries did?!
Then the kids got to meet with Ethan Dodd, a representative from Jimmy Gomez’s Office (D-CA 34th District) who fielded a number of questions from students who asked about the recently passed gun bill in the house, how someone gets involved in politics, and all the cool (and scary) things he’s seen over the last few years working in Congress. As they left the Capitol, the kids felt the impact and importance of the legislative process.
After the Capitol, we headed to lunch at Eastern Market. Like yesterday in Chinatown, we split into different groups and hit up three different restaurants. Each group felt they made the best individual choice of food, so we’ll call that a success. Then we hopped back on the bus to head toward the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
On the bus ride, the kids discussed the warning signs of genocide, particularly (but not limited to) the warning signs leading up to the Holocaust. During the height of the pandemic a couple years ago, Mr Brannan recalled reading a survey, or at least thought he recalled, that 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. We double checked Mr Brannan’s recall, and it’s true. Mr Brannan said he maybe tried not to remember because the findings were so disheartening. But, of course, that’s why we must remember these things. That’s why they must be taught. The Holocaust Memorial Museum knocks the wind out of you; it grabs you by the collar and shakes you. And it should!
Like the African American Museum of History and Culture we visited yesterday, the horrors of the events need to be put on full display. Young people need to learn about it. And 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—
What parts of the museum had the greatest impact on you?
Maddie: “Jews, even after they were free, were displaced.”
Asa: “The videos of the medical experiments.”
Clare: “The amount of shoes and hair.”
Jaeli: “The glass case of the Torah ripped up by Nazis left on the street.”
Sam M: “The children. Seeing the children.”
What are the warning signs?
Daniel: “Hate crimes.”
Zoe: “Stripping away rights. They ‘normalized’ it.”
Charlie: “Silencing political opponents.”
What responsibility do ordinary citizens have to take action?
Leila: “There is a lot of responsibility that comes with being an outsider because you have to step up and take action to help those being affected by the issue.”
What lessons can we learn or should we learn from the holocaust to prevent future atrocities?
Gavin: “Killing is never the solution.”
Caleb G: “Be more aware and not wait until it’s over to step in.”
For dinner we headed back to Old Town Alexandria for one last family meal at Fish Market. The kids enjoyed another delicious meal of hamburgers and chicken strips (yes, at a restaurant specializing in seafood). Meanwhile the adults, fatigued from not seeing any greenery for the last few days, chose to eat a salad with salmon. We kept the fun rolling, however, with a small serving of ice cream to finish dinner. When we arrived at the bus, Max showed off his dance moves as he felt the beat of a nearby drummer in his soul! (See pictures below.)
After dinner, we boarded the bus and headed to the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials. Upon our arrival our guides gave us this important quote to ponder:
War Memorials . . . represent benchmarks in American history and sacrifice. These pieces of concrete and metal are not just decorations . . . they are tributes to lost lives. . . . A war memorial gives us a sense of our past, and [they are] extremely important [reminders] that a whole lot of people sacrificed . . . . we should always remember that.
– Karl Lietzenmayer
With that knowledge in mind, we took a walk and visited the Korean and Vietnam War Memorials. These memorials are a powerful indication of the things we cherish and respect. The students were amazed and in awe as individuals left hats, flowers, cards, and even jotted down names of the lives lost.
We then set our sights on the Lincoln Memorial. On the way to the steps, Hamish joyfully mentioned, “Memorials are cool, but I think the fireflies are my favorite.” The sun was setting and a fair amount of fireflies were humming around the greenspace. And Hamish wasn’t the only one enthralled. Even Lincoln couldn’t beat the glowing flies of the night!
But after a while, the “glow bugs,” as Zeke referred to them, lost their initial luster, and the students made their way up the famous steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Students roamed and explored every inch of the monument. They sat by the steps and took in the breezy sunset. They stared across the reflecting pool at the Washington Monument, and they stared down at the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. once stood.
Other highlights of the Lincoln Memorial, according to your kids—
Sam S: Eating SpongeBob popsicles
Presley: Running into a volleyball opponent from California
Henry F: The purchase of a red, white, and blue flashing lightsaber
Many girls: Looking at the prom dresses of high school girls taking pictures in front of the reflecting pool
Magnus: Also the high school girls in their prom dresses
Once a high school prom student hopped on a mic, that was our cue to head to the busses. By this point, we’d been on the move for thirteen and a half hours. This should have meant the kids were tired and a bit less energetic on the bus ride back to the hotel, right? Mr Brannan thought so. But the kids surrounding him in the back of the bus were fueled by some hypnotic concoction of various sugars that fueled banshee-like howls, goat sounds, and other screeches of the night. As soon as the bus stopped at the hotel, he happily scurried off the bus, and the chaperones dismissed the kids to their rooms to, fingers-crossed, pack and, double fingers-crossed, sleep.
Tomorrow’s our last day in DC, but we still have a few more places we’re excited to see. We’ll be visiting the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial, the National Archives, and the Udvar Hazy Center. Then, we’ll be headed to Dulles to catch United Airlines flight 2276. We’ll be arriving in LA at 8:10pm with your kids, so we’ll see you shortly thereafter in baggage claim!
Now that we’re a few days into the trip, the kids have started to fall into a routine: wake up, head downstairs, forget a thing or two, run back upstairs, get reminded to bring all their things, and repeat or get hungry enough to just sit down and eat. Breakfast today featured waffles, which Sam S. described as “bussin.” So, there’s that.
With bellies full and guide books in hand, we made our way to the Eisenhower Memorial. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Jamie Stiehm, a reporter, historian, and Asa’s aunt.
While reporting on the certification of the 2020 election, she found herself trapped in the Chamber with the rest of Congress as a mob descended upon them. She gave her firsthand account of the events that day and took questions from the students.
“What was going on inside your brain while you were in there?”
She responded she wasn’t sure she would make it out alive.
“How do you feel about our democracy now?”
“I’m an optimist,” she informed them, reminding students that even though at times things are tough, democracy in the US still works and the gears of justice are turning even though it might be turning slowly.
She also informed the students that a hearing on the findings of the Jan. 6th committee would be taking place Thursday at 8pm. Many of the kids whipped their faces toward their chaperones at these words. We disappointed them by saying we wouldn’t be back at the hotel yet to watch the hearings on TV, so they ask their loving parents/guardians please record it for them.
After her formal talk ended, some students explored the Eisenhower Memorial space while others crowded around Ms Stiehm to continue peppering her with questions about her experiences and thoughts reporting on politics in DC. She took the time to patiently answer each of their questions, and whether she realized it or not, inspired them with her words and stories.
As we left, Ms Stiehm made the chaperones’ morning by commenting, “It was a joy to be with your excellent young minds today. Great questions!”
After our time at the Eisenhower Memorial, we were left with a quote by the man himself to ponder. From his farewell address, he said, “As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow.” When I asked Devan about this quote, he said, “This quote means to me that we have to think about our future. We have to protect our resources and be aware about climate change so that those in the future have a better chance.”
Our next stop was the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum was remarkably well thought out, and our kids responded to its powerful exhibits. Here are there thoughts—
Presley: “The way it was laid out was interesting. Staring in the basement, in the dark. As we moved up the floors, there seemed to be progress and triumphs.”
Jaeli: “The Emmett Till exhibit was impactful.”
Gavin: “His mom was courageous to have an open casket.”
Leila: “The trial was disheartening. I liked that his uncle still tried to fight for justice. They had the evidence, but they didn’t get the verdict.”
Caleb G also had the unique experience of finding his grandfather’s name on the wall that featured African American Olympic athletes. Isn’t that pretty cool?
After the museum, we headed to Chinatown where the kids had another opportunity to shop and eat. (Don’t worry, they’re getting many, many chances to spend their money!) We knew the kids enjoyed their time because Daniel came back with a big milkshake and a smile.
From lunch, we quickly transitioned to the Portrait Gallery, which was basically across the street from where most of us ate. Students flocked to the presidential portraits first. However, the museum was filled with gorgeous portraits of all styles and subjects.
After lunch, we heard from the head of the Youth Activism Project, Anika Manzoor. Her organization teaches teens organizational skills and how to get the ball rolling on how to make a policy impact at all levels of government to make lasting change on issues they care about.
She asked them if they were passionate and ambitious. Many hands shot into the air. Then, she challenged them to verbalize what they’re passionate about.
Having recently completed their passion projects (nice work Mrs Fricke!), they had a lot to say. They spoke about issues that are important to them: mental health, women’s rights, climate change, homelessness, sexual assault awareness, and much more. They then asked her how she became an activist and really challenged her with pointed, detailed questions about how to enact meaningful change.
Anika was impressed. We were impressed! And we know all of you parents would have been impressed, too. You should be proud of the young, ambitious changemakers you’ve entrusted to us with in DC this week. You should also know that you’re all on their minds still. Presley expressed the sentiment best when talking about where her passion comes from: “My mom is my inspiration.”
We arrived at the White House lawn where students gathered and contemplated the important historical events that have occurred near the White House and also this important question, “Should Americans be allowed to protest anywhere?” After a few back and forths, Henry F, said it was fair and just to protest whenever as long as it was ethical! A lot of things to think about.
However, amidst all this serious discussion, students became distracted by the faint sounds of the Electric Slide in front of the White House fence. Once released, a set of students ran to the location of the music and began joining a crowd already dancing the shuffle. A clear highlight of democracy!
While overnight protests are no longer allowed in Lafayette Square, there was one protest that predated the change, and thus, they were allowed to stay. In fact, the tent and a rotating number of volunteers have been present at said protest since 1981, which began as a protest against nuclear weapons. Today, they stand up for the many injustices they see in the world.
After a short walk through Lafayette Park, students saw Black Lives Matter Plaza. What was initially an art installation following the George Floyd protests became a permanent part of the city due to DC’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, and her disagreement with former President Trump removing protesters from the park.
It wouldn’t be an out of state trip without a little rain, literally. Since driving all the way to Camden Yards only to eat a soggy hot dog while learning the game was canceled was something we didn’t want to do, we pivoted. Also, a new face joined us, Mrs. Abo who will be with us for the final leg of the trip. The kids were delighted by her presence. Yet, the big question remained, what would we do instead of the game? We decided to turn our attention to Georgetown for some food and the remaining monuments found all across DC. One highlight of this was the Albert Einstein Memorial. The memorial is designed to encourage interaction, and our students jumped, quite literally, at the chance to climb on Einstein. They each jumped their way through to get to the highest point of the monument (see pictures). Our adventure ended at the Kennedy Center. All the kids split up into groups searching it up and down, left and right. Most of them ended up on the terrace where they enjoyed the view of DC’s skyline, the Potomac, and lightning striking Camden Yards in the distance. We then got on the bus and headed for the hotel for the NBA finals and some rest.
Our last full day in DC and their last full day as a touring group will be tomorrow. The kids will visit Capitol Hill and enjoy lunch at Eastern Market. Following lunch we will visit the Holocaust Museum, the National Mall and a few war memorials.
If anything we’ve shared about this week is any indication, tomorrow is going to be epic by all means.
One last thing, when asked what their favorite part of the day was, your kids replied—
Sadie: “The view from the Kennedy Center.”
Hamish: “Exploring Georgetown.”
Caleb: “Hearing about the insurrection from someone who was there.”
Ruthie: “The Portrait Gallery.”
Zoë: “The protestor in Lafayette Park.”
Ella: “The activism talk.”
Jade: “The African American Museum of History and Culture.”
After yesterday’s non-stop DC tour, and most likely coupled with staying up well past lights out, a handful of kids’ rooms were absolutely unprepared for their wake-up knocks. It took a while to get the whole crew down to breakfast, but at least that would mean the three-hour bus ride to Monticello would be quiet and full of kids catching up on their sleep.
They talked. They played cards. They commented on the verdant countryside. They played road trip games.
“I spy with my little eye something crazy.”
“The bus seat fabric pattern.”
“No — $4 gas prices!”
For his part, with his little eye, somewhere near the turnoff to Manassas, Mr Brannan spotted an open entry cornhole tournament at the local Legion Hall and considered briefly scrapping the day’s itinerary to put his skills to the test. Ultimately, he decided Virginia wasn’t ready to witness his transcendent talent, so he let the bus roll on.
The arrival at Monticello was eventful. After a 2 ½-hour bus ride, students stretched their legs and opened their eyes to the lush forests and surrounding green of the Monticello property.
Monticello, little mountain in Italian, was an estate built by Thomas Jefferson. The construction of the home commenced in 1770 and saw its completion in 1809. The area served as a plantation. In his lifetime, Jefferson enslaved over 600 individuals, only freeing 7 in his lifetime, a large portion of whom resided on the plantation. Monticello remains remarkably well preserved, and the informational placards and docents on site pull no punches when it comes to Mr Jefferson’s actions.
The house itself is filled with artifacts, trinquets, and objects from various places and spaces. His collection contained objects from the Greco-Roman period to Native American artifacts, as well as fossilized remains. Some visitors to his home would refer to his home as a “rich museum,” while others called it, “cluttered.” One of the pressing questions that the kids kept asking was, “Who would Jefferson be in this day and age? How would he be perceived?”
Some other bits of interesting information from Monticello:
From Monticello, we headed northeast on the bus to Fredericksburg. Ranger Pete met us at the entrance to the National Park and became an instant sensation with the kids. He was knowledgeable, kind, and energetic. He told the kids all about the battle that happened 160 years ago where they were standing.
From Ranger Pete, they learned that the Battle of Fredericksburg was an unmitigated disaster for the Union. The Union possessed superior numbers, and they initially had the element of surprise. But they lost their chance to strike quickly, made mistake after mistake, and ultimately suffered more than double the casualties they inflicted on the Confederates.
The aftermath of the battle saw yet another crisis within Lincoln’s cabinet of rivals (which he ably redressed) and forced another change in leadership at the top of the Union Army. Less than a month after the battle, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, and African American soldiers were finally allowed to fight for the Union in the Civil War. By February, the first entirely Black regiment fought in its first battle. The Union would win the war two years later.
While we were walking around the national park, faint drops of water began falling from the sky. It wasn’t really raining. It wasn’t really sprinkling.
It was quite humid, though . . . and Daniel quickly opened his umbrella to protect himself, drawing multiple comments from the chaperones asking if he was the Wicked Witch of the West.
After another bus trip, the students were itching for their first opportunity to boost the economy in Old Town Alexandria. Armed with cash in their pockets and friends by their side, they made their way to such fine establishments as Chipotle, CVS, and ice cream. The riveting conversation on the bus ride back to the hotel regarding the pronunciation of Hyatt (hi-it, hi-yat, hiat) is all the proof we need that maybe more sugar than substance was consumed.
All in all, it was a wonderful day, and students (like their chaperones) are finally feeling the effects of these jam-packed days—in a good way.
Tomorrow, we are off to the Eisenhower Memorial, National Museum of African American History and Culture, the White House, and a Cubs game…I mean an Orioles game (it’s only Ms. Platt who calls it the Cubs game).
When the chaperones stepped into the hallway to perform wake-up knocks, we could already hear movement and showers running! Most of the kids were already up and at it. Some were fully dressed and ready to burst out the door as soon as a knuckle rapped on the wood. I guess we can say round one in the matter of kids versus the hotel alarm clocks goes to the kids.
Mr Brannan, believing the early start the kids got meant they were excited to see the days’ sites, so he asked a group of boys, “What are you most excited to do today?”
Breakfast was in the President’s Room. The kids thought this was pretty cool. I guess we mention it here so the marketing team at Hyatt knows they’ve done their job. It was just a normal room with a breakfast buffet. But the food was good and filling, which was great because we had a packed day ahead of us.
Our bus ride to the Jefferson Memorial started off with our usual morning count-off. Mr. Marquez frowned as he listened to the arhythmic stop and go of the roll call process as students slowly struggled to get to number 41. 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, Charlie arrived at an interesting conclusion: informed citizens can hold their government accountable. Pretty good, kids!
Like moths to a flame, a mere twenty-four hours earlier, your kids were drawn to all the trinkets touted by every airport kiosk. They were distracted by the shiny, surface level glitz of tourist kitsch, as they bestowed these items with unworthy exclamations of amazement. But what a difference even a little bit of time can make.
As we arrived at the Jefferson Memorial, those previously glazed-over, consumer-happy eyes of your kids now reflected real inquisitiveness and a desire to understand and delve deeper into the complexities of American history and its future.
The students continued their discussion from their social studies class about what it means to memorialize and revere individuals in history. Should Thomas Jefferson be memorialized? Can the man be separated from his role in history? While we did not fully answer these questions, the conversation will continue tomorrow at Monticello, and the chaperones and Close Up guides were all very impressed with the kids and their nuanced understanding of history.
Now, to this point in the blog of the trip, we’ve given the kids a bit of a hard time. But, they really impressed us here. They’re smart and inquisitive and have a real vision for the future of this country and what they hope it can be. With our teacher-spirits buoyed by your kiddos, we were off to Arlington National Cemetery.
Once off the bus, we passed through security and onto the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. The kids got their steps in by walking all the way up to the Lee house. The steep incline was challenging for some, but was made all worth it at the first signs of the beautiful horizon. The house is situated at the highest point of the Arlington gardens where every neighborhood of DC can be seen. Surrounding the house were former quarters of those enslaved. The property served as a plantation originally, but was confiscated by the Union during the Civil War. The first graves dug on the property were for Union troops who fought for emancipation.
One group also saw one of the most recent graves in the cemetery and a personal role model for them: the notorious RBG. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is buried in Supreme Court Grove and has one of the largest tombs—a permission that had to be granted by Arlington Cemetery.
We then moved onto the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At the chiming of the 12 pm bell, the changing of the guard was announced. Students were mesmerized by the orderly steps, clicking of boots, and the meticulous nature of the guards. Then, four of our WNS students—Henry B, Dawni, Magnus, and Chloe—followed the orders of the guards and walked on a path that is rarely ever walked by civilians. With grace and dignity, the four laid the wreath on the tomb, listened to Taps, and placed their hands on their hearts. It is truly an experience they will never forget.
Beyond watching the ceremony, students also discussed why the ceremony is important. Why not modernize the system of guarding the tomb? In the end, students realized the importance of honor and traditions.
Speaking of tradition, no day would be complete for your kids in DC without an opportunity to buy souvenirs from kiosks in a mall. Despite the mere 50 minutes to get their food and eat, students seemed to find a way to digest while roving up and down escalators holding bags of items that will surely appreciate in value.
With stomachs full of Starbucks, McDonald’s, Haagen Dazs, and we hope some food of substance, the kids made their way back to the bus to head to the FDR Memorial.
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.
As students considered FDR’s role through the Great Depression and WWII, our guides shared with us the following quote from him: “Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another. But by all means, try something.” While FDR was faced with incredible challenges during his terms, his words ring true with our own WNS belief in growth mindset. Who knew Mr Zacuto’s squiggly line existed back in the 1930s?
Meanwhile, the two people who are self described as “the worst people at finding things,” searched the 7 acre memorial to find Chloe’s lost name badge and hotel card. One of these terrible seekers also found a missing wallet from one of our students. Shout out to Isaac, our amazing program director!
Next, students walked over to the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. One of DC’s most striking memorials, it was designed based on his quote: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” As we walked through the literal break in the mountain, students stood at the feet of his massive statue reflecting on his ideals, what he fought for, and how we stand up for our beliefs. This was a theme throughout the day and brought home by the students’ discussions about current protests and the ways in which we fight for the injustices we see in the world.
After a day of standing in the sun, our next step was a welcome respite: the Smithsonians. Students were given a choice of what museum they wanted to go to, and most students flocked to the Natural History Museum; however, a lucky few headed to the National Gallery of Art with Ms. Reimann and Jesse where they viewed the Afro Atlantic exhibit.
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, we didn’t make it to U Street or the original Ben’s Chili Bowl. We did, however, hear the story of Ben’s Chili Bowl surviving the ‘68 riots in DC, serving both protestors and emergency responders alike, and made our way to a second Ben’s Chili Bowl location on H Street. Students were treated to fresh fries and their choice of hot dogs and burgers, covered in chili, of course (and there were vegan/vegetarian options).
With full stomachs, we made our way to the final stops of the day: the WWII Memorial and the Washington Monument. It was such a treat to visit the former on the anniversary of D-Day, and with the fountains glistening in the setting sunlight, the celebration of that monumental day was palpable.
Finally, we made our way to the Spiderman Monument. Oops, I mean the Washington Monument. Fun fact: it is the only monument on the National Mall. Every other “monument” is, in fact, a memorial. Students craned their necks as they looked up at the monument and lamented that they couldn’t swing through it like Spiderman. The chaperones didn’t quite get the reference since we haven’t seen the movie.
What a day and what a shift put in by your kids. Take them away from the distraction of shiny trinkets and they become less like a moth and more like a flame. Their knowledge and application of it impressed the docents from the Jefferson Memorial to the MLK Memorial and everywhere in between. They love you and miss you (even if they won’t tell you), and they did a great job being a flame today, carrying on your legacy and that of their school.
Did we tie that all together rather nicely or are the effects of too much Ben’s Chili Bowl and too little rest starting to show? Either way, it’s off to bed! There’s a long drive to Monticello tomorrow looming over us . . .
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” according to an old Chinese proverb. Our journey to Washington, D.C. began with a bus of teenagers shrieking excitedly.
While adolescent voices shrilling louder and louder and louder in a fight for supremacy amidst a growing cacophony isn’t a preferred wakeup call for the chaperones, we must admit, it’s effective. By the time the bus was unloaded at the airport, we were more wired than we would have been after two red eye coffees. And we needed to be.
For about five minutes, the only WNSers with legitimate bookings on the 8AM United Airlines flight to DC were the kids . . . and Jesse. While Mr. Brannan, Ms. Platt, and Ms. Reimann briefly considered letting Jesse wrangle the kids on his own while we hopped on the next available flight, we ultimately decided to solve the ticket issue. It was easy enough, though the extra time it took had the kids worried there wouldn’t be enough time for them to start spending their DC cash allowance!
Next, we checked our luggage, telling the kids to double check that they didn’t have any items in their bags (like rechargeable lithium batteries) that couldn’t go under the plane. Then, we went to security, telling the kids to make sure not to have any liquids with them in their backpacks. . . .
And yet, inevitably, there were liquids in a bag or two, which is enough of a security threat to cause a real (loooonnngg) hold up at the checkpoint. After all that, we got to our gate, hoped no kid had left a rechargeable lithium battery in their checked luggage, and were told by the kids—who are excellent timekeepers when they want to be—that there was still a little time for them to start spending their money!
Ms. Reimann gave them permission to go ahead and spend their (?) hard earned cash for the next ten minutes, and they obeyed her more closely than at any other point that morning, dutifully going to the gift shops and bookstores to spend, spend, spend! There’s a rumor the Fed will be meeting while we’re in DC to discuss the effect frivolous spending by adolescents is having on inflation. We’ll keep you apprised of their findings.
As the first kids started boarding the plane, a rumor started spreading down the line that there were no TVs!
“But we looked up the plane online! It said it had entertainment!”
“That’s not fair!”
Technically, there was entertainment onboard, but only if you had a WiFi device to connect to it. What a cruel twist of fate!
After the initial shock, however, the students decided they could pass the time by talking to each other, reading books, or playing cards. It all felt very quaint and 20th century.
Unfortunately, some students were a bit more isolated than others. A handful were sandwiched in middle seats next to two strangers. The chaperones were able to switch things around for the most part. This still left Caleb Y. having to sit next to Ms. Reimann for the whole flight, no doubt having to listen to tales of the track team’s exploits for the better part of five hours. Clare Y. was in a similar position—why is it that the people with last names at the end of the alphabet always draw the shortest straw—but chose to remain seated between two strangers instead of sitting next to Mr. Brannan and having to listen to him drone on about history. Her loss!
After waiting for all the other passengers to deplane, the 45 of us were happy to finally stretch our legs—especially Dom—and stand up. After a not so quick bathroom stop, a few attempts at our count off, we made our way to baggage claim where, luckily all of our bags made it!
Then, we were off to the hotel. The sides of the roads were filled with some sort of green flora that none of your Southern Californian kiddos seemed familiar with. (Just wait till they experience water falling from the sky later this week!) Upon arriving we were treated to a wonderful buffet with baked chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, tilapia, and salad. Plus, a delightful array of desserts that were not ignored by the kids.
With full stomachs, the kids broke into their Close Up workshop groups to get to know one another and prepare for our first memorial visits: the Marine Corps War Memorial and the Air Force Memorial. And soon we hopped on the bus again and were on the road.
The Marine Corps War Memorial was dedicated in 1954 to all US Marines who have given their lives in combat. The memorial design is one all your students were pretty familiar with, as it’s based on the iconic 1945 Pulitzer Prize photo of triumphant Marines raising a flag over Iwo Jima. The image inspired back when it was first published in newspapers across the country and it still had the same effect on the students. As the sun set peacefully behind the trees, they stared up at the statue in awe and relative silence . . . and then started running around the surrounding green space.
Our final stop of the day would be the Air Force Memorial. The spires of the memorial reach over 400 feet into the sky and look quite impressive overlooking the city at dusk. The spires take on the shape of the contrails in a “bomb burst” manoeuvre, only the fourth contrail isn’t present to symbolize a missing pilot, the reason for the memorial’s construction.
Despite having spent the better part of the year teaching his students to be discerning about the information they choose to believe, Mr. Brannan easily convinced a number of kids that the Air Force Memorial was built for Goose from Top Gun. They probably would have gone to high school thinking this was true, if the lovely Close Up guides didn’t correct his lie. (Mr. Brannan called it a lesson!)
The Air Force Memorial also overlooks the Pentagon and students were able to see where one of the hijacked planes crashed into it on 9/11. We will visit that memorial later this week. But as the sun disappeared below the horizon, it was finally time to head back to the hotel, debrief, and get to our rooms.
Tomorrow is a packed day. We’re off to more memorials, Arlington National Cemetery, and Ben’s Chili Bowl!
Your tired chaperones.