Washington D.C. 2023
We made it! Today was our final day in DC. At the end of breakfast, we carefully went over the timing and order for our modified schedule for the day (closing workshop, National Air and Space Museum, Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, then the airport) in order to make sure everything would run smoothly. Of course, if you’re reading this now, you’ve likely read about our previous days’ hiccups and modifications, and today would throw a few of those too.
When we made our morning rounds to the rooms today, we didn’t know what to expect. We told the kids to pack last night and tidy up their rooms, but we half expected the majority of them to put it all off to the last minute. With a few exceptions, however, the rooms were decently tidy, and the kids were mostly packed. What a pleasant surprise! We did encourage the students to collectively pool a few small bills each to leave on the dresser for the cleaning crew. Lord knows they deserve it!
After breakfast, we had our closing workshop, where students discussed lots of the issues and policies they’d discussed after touring the various museums we’d seen on tour and after speaking with Rep. Schiff. Some students continued to discuss the importance of gun violence. Others discussed the importance of protecting our democracy. The majority focused on the environment. Gigi summed up the group’s thoughts well: “There are many issues with the environment. If we don’t take care of the environment we will lose our food sources. Like if we pollute the ocean we won’t have fish; if we destroy plants the same thing will happen to other animals. We need to protect our planet, and that’s why it’s the most important issue.”
Next, we boarded the bus for the National Air and Space Museum. When we arrived, we were a little early for our reservation, so we walked across the street to one of DC’s newest memorials, dedicated to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Some students toured the memorial, looking at statues and quotes that reflected different stages of Eisenhower’s life and achievements. Some students played the Wordle. Others found an ice cream truck serving treats at 10:30 in the morning. The rest found a small patch of grass and decided it was time to play a game of touch football. Mr. Shipley and one of the Close Up guides took one team, and Mr. Brannan and Mr. Young took another. And it got intense! There were toe-touch catches on the sideline and the back of the endzone, but overall it was a lot of fun. Eisenhower played football when he attended West Point, so I’m sure he would have approved. Needless to say, by the time we left the memorial, no matter what the kids there did, they liked Ike.
After the football game ended with a last second Hail Mary (Was it a catch or was it not? It probably depends who you ask), we headed back to the National Air and Space Museum. What we saw was a massive line that extended down the block and across the street. But, it’s fine, right? We had reservations. Nope! That was the reservation line. It appeared to be overbooked from our eyes, and they didn’t even start letting people into the museum at the time of our reservation. So, we sadly had to move on, so that we’d have time to see some other sights.
Since we left the National Air and Space Museum without getting in, we decided to head to the Supreme Court prior to our trip to the Library of Congress, and at least that decision brought us some luck. Most of the time, the line to get into the Supreme Court is too long for groups to enter without waiting for a long, long time, but when we arrived, there wasn’t a line at all. So, we took a picture in front of the building and went inside where we peered inside the courtroom and took pictures next to statues of some notable Supreme Court justices.
After the Supreme Court, we headed to the Library of Congress. Many in DC consider the Library of Congress one of the most beautiful buildings in DC. As the largest library in the world, it stands as a place of knowledge and cultural preservation. The Main Reading Room always stops our students in their tracks when they see it. With its vast holdings, commitment to accessibility, and dedication to preserving the world’s cultural heritage, the Library of Congress stands as a true testament to the power of learning, the preservation of human history, and a statement that there is value in learning from the past. It’s Ms Reimann’s favorite place in DC, and for good reason! It was a nice final DC sight for us to visit.
We walked out of the Library of Congress at about 1:15pm and walked down Capitol Hill to our bus. We took in the final sights of the Capitol Building, the National Mall, and the Washington Monument. Our class trip to DC was over and we were off to the airport.
We saw a lot of sights on our six days in DC together, and it’s hard to pick out a favorite moment or a favorite place. But we asked a few of your kids to contribute their thoughts:
Bon: My favorite part about the trip was the baseball game because I had so much fun and made so many memories with my friends.
Lola: I liked the Holocaust Museum because it was an event that I didn’t know that much about before.
Kai: Wandering around freely in Georgetown (for dinner on Tuesday) was a highlight.
Lev: My biggest takeaway from the trip was the stories leading up to the holocaust and how it impacted the ending of the holocaust and ultimately World War II.
Leah: My favorite part of the trip was the baseball game and the town explorations and all the free time we had. It was great for bonding with my classmates.
Noa: My favorite part of the DC trip was the Natural History Museum because I like seeing all the fossils.
Cooper: I will take home the stories of the holocaust survivors.
Zella: My favorite thing was the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. It was so picturesque. I also enjoyed the Holocaust Memorial Museum because I not only learned about the event but also individuals who went through it.
Allison: My favorite part of the trip was going to the baseball game and yelling at people to start the wave!
Phoebe: My favorite part was going to the holocaust museum because it allowed me to understand the extent of World War II and learn more about the personal stories of the people who survived and perished.
Vishnu: I liked the neighborhood explorations.
Matilda: I liked the baseball game and holocaust museum the best because I got to learn about individual people’s stories.
Nick: My favorite part of the trip was the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
And that’s it! That wraps up our time in DC. But, Mr Brannan was inspired to write one last small tribute to the WNS Class of 2023. If you’ve read this far, you might as well keep going. So, here it is:
While on the plane ride to DC this past Sunday, I was trying to drift to sleep listening to music when a Joni Mitchell classic, Both Sides Now, came on, a perfectly calming song to lull one to sleep. As her voice gently rose up above the guitar strums, however, I opened my eyes to look out the window, to see exactly what she was describing with her lyrics:
Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way
My mind drifted to when I first visited Washington, DC, the summer after my 8th grade school year, about the same age as all the kids I was now accompanying on a trip to DC, many of them visiting the city for the first time, just as I once did.
Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve made the trip with soon-to-be graduating middle schoolers, and as Joni Mitchell’s lyrics continued, I remembered back to last year when thunderstorms rolled across DC on the evening we planned to attend a baseball game:
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
As the song continues, Joni Mitchell sings about love and friendship, the wonders of the first time you see and experience something to the possibility that those things sour and turn bad. Thinking back on my experience as an 8th grader in DC, I remembered the bright-eyed wonder I felt, at the possibilities a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” could accomplish.
As I grew older and learned more about US history in high school and college and followed the news and lived through triumphant and tragic historical events, it became harder to look at the US government with that same bright-eyed wonder. There was so much potential there, and it had accomplished so many great things, and it had fallen short and failed at so many others.
As I began teaching students US History, I taught my students that America could be a place where it is “self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable Rights.” I taught them America could be a place its poets wrote, “Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— / Let it be that great strong land of love / Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme / That any man be crushed by one above.”
Sadly, as has happened many times in America’s short history, however, it seemed to enter a downward cycle into violence and hate that exploded on the streets of cities around the country, and then onto the footsteps of the Capitol building . . . and then into the chamber floors of the heart of American democracy. I watched this unfold with some of his previous students a few years ago. They asked me questions over Zoom about what was happening, about what was going to happen. I didn’t have the answers. But it was still the American democratic process, and the same old process for some “(It never was America to me),” Langston Hughes, a poet who wrote the same verses in the paragraph above parenthetically included in his poem where those verses are from, “Let America Be America Again.” I could see it clearly from both sides now—to borrow from Joni Mitchell’s song—and that realization makes it easy to turn anyone into a cynic.
But, there’s something to Obama’s message of hope. It’s easy to be cynical about things. So, so, so easy. That’s why it’s important to have hope, to see possibilities of a better tomorrow.
In Joni Mitchell’s song she says “it’s life’s illusions [she] recalls,” indicating those are the memories she wants to cling to. I do, too. Seeing your kids in DC this week, as they toured their nation’s capital, their inquisitiveness about current events, their cutting questions they threw at Rep. Schiff, hinting at the need for change, fills me with hope.
As Robert F. Kennedy said, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”
And I do hope, and I do believe, this is a generation of changemakers whose collective actions will make the world a better place. I see that in your kids, and because of that, I believe there will be a better tomorrow.
Your 8th grade chaperones