DC 23-24

Washington D.C. – Day 6

By | DC 23-24

Washington D.C. 2023-24

– Mr. Brannan & the 8th Grade Chaperones


Yesterday, we walked past the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and noticed something unusual. The sign on its headquarters is neither engraved nor printed. It’s made of cast iron(y). That’s not a joke. Well, the parenthetical “y” is a joke, but it’s a real bureau, and its sign is made of cast iron. Perhaps they’re too busy printing and engraving, so they had to outsource the making of their own sign.


Anyway, onto today, our last day in DC . . .


What was immediately apparent when chaperones made their rounds to check on students in the morning was that some students took our advice to pack their bags the night before and some didn’t. Once they realized we weren’t going to release them to breakfast until their entire room was packed and ready, however, suddenly the pace picked up.


On the boys’ side of the hall, Mr. Brannan inspected each room before the kids could vacate, grading each hotel room’s current state in his head from messy teenager to in-their-prime rockstar. Based on this rating, he would encourage a tip of a few dollars to as much as they could spare!


After breakfast, we loaded the bus to head to Mount Vernon, thehome of George Washington, the first president of the United States. Purchased by Washington in 1754, the estate is located along the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia. It features the iconic mansion with outbuildings, gardens, farms, distillery, and gristmill spread across 500 acres. On the property is also an excellent museum detailing Washington’s life and achievements as well as a memorial to the enslaved individuals who built and maintained the property over the years. The highlights of the visit for most students were touring the mansion and watching the 4D film in the museum about Washington’s campaigns during the American Revolution. 


After lunch, we stopped for a quick lunch in Old Town Alexandria. The time crunch proved more difficult for the chaperones than the students. Their usual choice of restaurant is a bit quicker to serve than where the chaperones chose to eat. Nonetheless everyone was able to make it back to the old town square to wave goodbye to our Close Up guides, as we departed for Udvar-Hazy. 


The Udvar-Hazy Center, which is an annex of the National Air and Space Museum located near Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia, making it the perfect final visit for us prior to checking in for our flight back to LA. Udvar-Hazy provides overflow space for the massive collection of the Air and Space museum. Highlights include the Space Shuttle Discovery, the Boeing B-29 Enola Gay bomber, and the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. The expansive hangar-like structure allows visitors to view history’s most iconic aviation artifacts up close, as you can see from the photos of your kiddos.


And then we hopped on the bus again, this time our destination was the airport. We had finally crossed off the last thing on our DC itinerary. 


Here are some final thoughts on the trip from your kids—


Gabe:  The spy Museum was really cool. 


Christina:  Getting the independence to explore on our own and eat on our own was my favorite part of the trip. 


Eli:  I liked the Washington Monument. I thought it was cool. 


Kima:  I liked dancing in front of the White House. 


Liv:  Shear Madness and the characters and the craziness was the best. 


Maddie:  Going to Georgetown and shopping with my friends was a highlight. Shear Madness was also so funny. 


Claire:  I liked the Portrait Gallery. The art was really cool and interesting. 


Shiloh:  The Washington Monument was cool.


Rebecca:  walking around the neighborhoods and making our own choices was fun. 


Harper:  I like the museums and memorials. 


Luce:  I enjoyed Georgetown and Dupont Circle and getting to explore different DC neighborhoods. 


Nolan:  I enjoyed seeing the monuments and memorials and museums. It’s hard to choose one. 


Maggie:  I really liked having independence and walking places with my friends. 


Sloane: Going to the Lincoln Memorial was fun. It was relaxing and you could see many other monuments from there. I also did cartwheels with my friends by the water. 


Ollie:  I enjoyed the Lincoln Memorial. It looked nice when you looked out on the city from there. 


Beck:  It was fun to have my birthday while in DC. 


Lana:  I really enjoyed getting to explore Georgetown with my friends. 


Caroline:  The neighborhoods were really fun to walk around with my friends. 


Vince:  I enjoyed getting to stay in a hotel room with my friends. Best exploration was in Georgetown because the food was good and I had a good time with my friends. 


Ben:  I liked going to my restaurant, Ben’s. It was a good vibe. 


Lila R:  Arlington Cemetery was neat to see and the National Art Gallery. 


Jack:  The night memorials were nice to wander around and see lit up. 


Violetta:  I enjoyed the Spy Museum. The exhibits were so interesting. 


Camille:  I enjoyed Chinatown, walking around with my friends. 


Izzy:  I liked Georgetown for the shopping. 


Maximus:  The Holocaust Museum was crazy. I knew things were bad, but the photos and videos were so much worse than can be imagined.  


Ralphy:  I liked the National Portrait Gallery with all its paintings. 


Harley:  I liked the National Art Gallery because I’m a big fan of art. 


Bennett:  I liked the Portrait Gallery and exploring Chinatown. 


Cici:  I liked the Washington Monument at night, the view from the reflecting pool was so peaceful. Sitting there was magic. 


Evan:  I liked the African American Museum of History and Culture. There were lots of great exhibits, hard to choose only one to recommend. 


Ari:  I enjoyed the bus rides. We saw lots of sights out the window and I got to bond with the different people I sat with throughout the trip. 


Ezeh:  The African American Museum and Natural History museums were the best parts. 


Aubrey:  I like seeing Georgetown. The neighborhood was really pretty. 


Konner:  The Black History Museum was the best thing I saw. 


Gali:  I liked hanging out with Camille on the trip. 


Sienna:  My highlight was Shear Madness. It was funny. 


Lila B:  I really enjoyed hanging our with people I know and also making new friends.


Rishi:  I really liked the Lincoln, Vietnam Veterans, and Korean Memorial. I researched those in class, so it was nice to see them in person. I also liked giving Mr. Brannan snacks. 


Ruby:  I liked the Lincoln Memorial. I’ve seen it before, and it reminded me of when I visited DC when I was little. 


Tyler:  Uh, what did we do? I guess the art museums were good. 


Goldie:  I liked getting lunch and dinner with my friends. The Holocaust Museum was also impactful. 


Raven: The Holocaust museum really impacted me. Though it wasn’t an enjoyable experience, it was really important to be there. I also enjoyed finding mushrooms and rooming with Kima!


Dylan:  I had a good time at the Lincoln Memorial with my friends. 


Liam: The Udvar-Hazy Center was really cool. The planes were awesome. 


Cyrus:  I liked seeing the Capitol. The tour was fun. 


Jaxon: The Washington Monument was cool. It was really tall.


Cosi: I liked the Spy Museum because of the interactive exhibits and the stuff on display.


Zoey:  The Spy Museum was fun with its interactive exhibits. 


Leila:  I enjoyed getting to explore the neighborhoods with my friends and sit next to them on the bus. 


Sasha:  I liked seeing the Holocaust Museum. It was sad but powerful. There was even more info than the museum in LA. It was emotional. 

Now, usually, this is the part of the blog where we wrap things up, where we reflect on a whole year of 8th grade events and accomplishments and wish students well as they get ready for graduation and head off to high school, but this year is different. The near-week-long trip to the nation’s capital provided a meaningful opportunity for students to connect and learn together outside the classroom. Against the backdrop of iconic memorials and museums, they gained a deeper understanding of American history and government. Our hope is your kids return energized and inspired, with new friendships forged and fresh perspectives gained. Throughout the year ahead, teachers will refer back to the trip as they dive into projects and curriculum topics in English, social studies, SPLASH, and more. The 8th graders now share memories of gazing up at the Washington Monument, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, and debating issues that are discussed in the Capitol chambers. These experiences will serve as a springboard as students apply what they learned in DC to their studies all year. With tight bonds established and new knowledge in hand, the 8th grade is prepared to make this year at WNS their most successful yet.


Your 8th Grade Chaperones

Washington DC 2023-24 – Day 5

By | DC 23-24

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

Washington DC 2023-24 – Day 4

By | DC 23-24

Washington D.C. 2023-24

– Mr. Brannan & the 8th Grade Chaperones


Students were still a little slow to get ready for breakfast. When they emerged from their rooms, however, they all looked really nice, better than the chaperones even! They were more dressed up than normal in anticipation of visiting the Capitol. (Check out the photos!) So, we’ll give them a pass for being a bit late. 


What a day for us to visit Capitol Hill! With the fallout of Kevin McCarthy being the first Speaker of the House ousted from his position and Nancy Pelosi being evicted from her office while in California, all while the 45-day CR looms over everything, the old curse, “May you live in interesting times,” really jumps to the forefront of the chaperones’ minds.


When we arrived at the Capitol for our tour, we were ushered into a theater in the basement in order to view a quick intro video about the purpose and history of Congress, titled “Out of Many, One.” The intro talked about the many perspectives of the people of the USA and how they elect representatives whose job it is to work with other representatives from around the country to reach an effective and meaningful compromise that benefits all Americans. Perhaps the members of Congress need to be escorted to the basement to watch this video before their next session to remind them of their sworn duties. 


After the video, we were led through the rotunda, the statuary hall, past Kevin McCarthy’s Patrick McHenry’s Speaker of the House office, and to the gift shop. 


Here’s what your kids thought of this cool experience:


Cosi: The ceiling in the rotunda was cool. It was so tall. 


Gabe:  I liked the video we watched at the beginning. It was really informative. 


Luce:  I liked all the statues and how all the states get to give two statues of their choice and have the option to swap them out if they want. 


Claire:  I liked the smaller room we went to that used to be the House chamber. 


Aubrey:  I liked the rotunda with all the paintings that show the history of America. 


Ralphy:  the pictures in the rotunda were nice. But they did seem to be a little idealized. 


Shoutout to Beth Cowart and her father who helped us secure a tour slot large enough to accommodate our group!


After our tour, we made our way to the Dirksen Senate Building cafeteria. Mr. Brannan tried to talk a few kids into trying the “100-year-old Senate bean soup” mandated to be served in the Senate cafeteria. The origin as to why it must always be a food option in the cafeteria is still debated, but the traditional recipe is still served each day. No student took Mr. Brannan up on his suggestion, perhaps because of the way he described it. The recipe is 100 years old, not the soup. They make it fresh daily.


While browsing their food choices, Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona surprised a few students by asking them questions about their trip and where they were from. He was met with faces of, ‘Who are you?’ and ‘I’m hungry . . . food now!’ No big deal, I guess. He’s only been to space! 


After eating, we walked over to the Library of Congress (LOC), which is a truly spectacular building and a masterpiece of neoclassical architecture and art. Its Grand Dome tops the Great Hall, filling the space with light to bring emphasis to the colors of the tiles and murals that decorate the building. Throughout the building, visitors can admire sculptures representing historical and literary figures, along with elaborate mosaics and stunning paintings. Together, these elements create a space that celebrates intellectual richness and cultural heritage, making the LOC a true marvel for art and architecture enthusiasts. It’s no wonder why it’s Ms. Reimann’s favorite building in DC. 


As everyone admired the beauty of the building, Mr. Brannan snuck away to the Main Reading Room with his official LOC card in hand. By the time the students reached the observation area that looks down into the reading room, he was sauntering around the room that was off-limits to them. He took far too much pleasure in being able to do so. 


While exiting the LOC, Maggie approached Mrs. Rod and Mr. Brannan to ask where we were going next. 


“The National Archives.”


“Do they have a gift shop?”






Then, Eli quickly ran up: “I have replicas of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights already. Do you think I can get the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives?”


“Well, Nicholas Cage was able to.”




“Nothing. Yes, the gift shop will have a replica for sale.”


At the National Archives, students were able to view the original Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. They also walked through an exhibit that traces many of the ideas of these documents back to the Magna Carta. Oh, yeah, and Eli completed his replica triumvirate. 


Our next stop was the Spy Museum where the students learned about the role of espionage in foreign affairs. They got to see exhibits on George Washington’s spy ring during the Revolutionary War, learn how spies influenced events of the Cold War, and see how Osama bin Laden’s location was uncovered. But, mostly they enjoyed the interactive exhibits. They got to go on their own secret mission, crawl through a fake air duct, and pretend they were hanging from the crane from the opening scene of Casino Royale. The goal of the last challenge was to be able to hang onto the extra slippery bar of the crane for a minute. Most of us couldn’t hang on very long. But, Ezeh held on for 59.1 seconds, and Maximus and Aubrey made it the full minute!


Dinner tonight was at Yard House, and it gave us the opportunity to celebrate Beck’s birthday! On top of dinner, every kid received a brookie with ice cream to celebrate Beck and sang Happy Birthday to him. Beck was laughing and smiling throughout dinner with his friends. We’re certain this will be a birthday he’ll always remember. 


After dinner, on the bus ride over to the memorials, the sugar from the ice cream and brookies began to wreak havoc on our brain chemistry. But mostly it affected your children. Your sugared-up teens started talking faster and faster and faster until they were singing. What were they singing? What were those lyrics? From some sort of era? Oh, yes, the Eras Tour. Taylor Swift, of course. And boy did they try to hit every high note. And there was Ms. Scarlett looking up the lyrics for Caroline, so she could sing along too. We don’t know if she was being nice to the kids or mean to the adults.


Luckily, the bus ride ended, and the sugar-induced mania seemed to subside because we arrived at our last stop for the night:  the Lincoln, Vietnam Veterans, and Korean War Memorials. Students gathered in their groups and the tour guides highlighted the importance of this year as it is the 60th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and they pointed out the various symbolic elements students could find as they explored the memorials.


Here are some students’ thoughts on what they saw:


Ralphy:  All the soldiers’ faces in the Korean War Memorial looked scared for their lives. 


Maggie:  Lincoln is huge.

Harper:  It’s sad how many people died in Vietnam, and I feel bad for everyone who died.

Caroline:  Too many victims. Takes so long to walk past all the names. 

Jaxon:  The Korean and Vietnam listed all the names and soldiers definitely in memory of those who died. 

Sloan:  This is so fun I wanna live here. This is my happy place.


And that wraps it up for tonight. Tomorrow we have yet another busy and fun day in DC!


Over and out,


The 8th Grade Chaperones

Washington DC 2023-24 – Day 3

By | DC 23-24

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. 

Washington DC 2023-24 – Day 2

By | DC 23-24

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.

Washington DC 2023-24 – Day 1

By | DC 23-24

Washington D.C. 2023-24

– Mr. Brannan & the 8th Grade Chaperones


Despite being the earliest point in the year WNS 8th graders have embarked on their trip to Washington, DC, the start to the trip was the smoothest Mr Brannan has yet to experience. Everyone was on time, the passenger bus and the luggage bus got loaded quickly, and the students counted off by their assigned number (a way for the chaperones to quickly take attendance) efficiently. 

When we got to the airport, there were a few little hiccups. There was an overzealous traffic officer threatening to write tickets to the school buses. They didn’t in large part due to Nate mediating the situation rather calmly. We also were told that the group check-in counter that we arrived at was closed but the one at the opposite end of the terminal was open. But, none of this fazed your kids. They rolled with it.

How great! Mr Brannan thought. This group is listening, they’ve made a point to be on time, to be flexible if things don’t go quite according to plan. This will make things so easy because . . . 

His thought was interrupted by a question:  “Are we still going to have time to go buy things?” asked Ezeh whose question was followed by a barrage of others.

“Yeah, I want to get food.”

“I need snacks.”

“If there’s not time, can I buy things on the plane?”

And just like that, your attentive and calm kids turned into panicky, hungry creatures infected with a disease only spending money on snacks or toys or trinkets could cure. Despite the anxiety the countdown to our boarding time was causing, we were able to all get checked in, navigate security, and make it to our gate with enough time to allow students to go to the bathroom and fill up their water bottles. And, oh yeah, time to go spend money!

Things that were purchased:

  • Candy
  • Chips
  • Beef Jerky
  • Stuffed animals
  • More candy

When we boarded the plane, everyone was happy and made happier still when they saw the TVs in the back of every headrest. The chaperones were happy too. This meant the flight would be much quieter and tamer than if there was no entertainment on board. And it was. In fact, Mrs Rod received two separate compliments about how well-behaved your kids were!

Upon arrival in DC, we stepped into a madhouse at Dulles. Even walking single-file, we were brushing shoulders with other travelers. The first bathroom we passed had lines stretching around the corner. So did the next and the next. Eventually, we found a bathroom that could accommodate a 56-person school group. As Mr Brannan watched over a few bags outside the bathroom, two pilots walked by, commenting that they’d never seen the airport as crowded as it was at that moment. It was as if everyone left town anticipating a government shutdown only to have to rush back after a last-minute deal was reached. 

At the baggage claim, students volunteered to help get our baggage off the carousel. The volunteers quickly arranged into bag grabbers and runners. Luce became an expert at compiling the bag bins to clear off the carousel. Cyrus, Claire, Lila R (who was especially speedy . . . Ms. Reimann you might need to ask about track!), Rebecca, Ari, Kima, and Nolan (who also grabbed a bag for an older gentleman) got luggage to their peers in record time.

The bus ride was largely uneventful. Cyrus claimed the younger WNS kids lovingly call him Citrus. Tyler disagreed, saying if they loved him, they’d call him by his real name. 

Then, something called the Marshmallow Game sprung up in multiple seats. In fact, Goldie and Ruby even offered to teach Mr Brannan how to play. He passed. 

What’s the Marshmallow game, you ask? Any group of two people can do it. They go back and forth quickly sentence by sentence like this:

“One marshmallow. Check it out. Woo. Two marshmallow. Two marshmallow. Check it out. Check it out. Woo. Woo. Three marshmallow . . .” and so on. 

Pray for our sanity now. And Mr Brannan’s because he only held out on learning the game for a moment before buying in. He’s on it now and plans to get great at it!

At dinner, Ari shared how his mom asked if he had money this morning. When he said no, his Mom responded, ‘Grandma (who Ari will be seeing tomorrow) will give you some’. Next, chaperones were informed that Ben would likely be trying out for the school musical. With all the talk of parents, chaperones were confused to hear Ben Friedberg was trying out for the musical…we were quickly corrected by Ari, Beck, Lila, and Aubrey that they were talking about Ben Penny. Perhaps we are a little tired. 

After dinner, we boarded the bus again to head to the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. Getting to visit at night is a truly memorable experience. While the memorial can be visited any time 24/7, at night, the cantilevers and reflection pools beneath them are dimly lit up, which adds an extra layer of serenity and somberness to the memorial. 

Once we returned to the hotel, we debriefed the day, “what went well and what didn’t,” led by Mrs. Rod. Students were reflective in sharing what they enjoyed, and what could be worked on. But they were most excited to hear their room assignments and seemed to relish in the idea of finally being able to enjoy some downtime. Each room was checked by the night guards, then checked by a chaperone, and given the morning wake-up time.

With  Monday Night Football on in most of the boys’ rooms, Mr Brannan and Nate are a little dubious they’ll find them raring to go in the morning. But they need to be! We have a packed day with visits to the FDR, MLK, and Jefferson Memorials in the morning, and a trip to Arlington National Cemetery where four students will participate in the Wreath-Laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before we head to Chinatown for dinner.

Farewell for now,

The Chaperones