DC - WNS | Westside Neighborhood School

Washington DC 2023 – Day 6

By | DC Trip 2023

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

Washington DC 2023 – Day 5

By | DC Trip 2023

Washington D.C. 2023


So, yes, we left California to fly across the country only to experience smoke-filled air from raging wildfires. At least it made the kids feel more at home? I don’t know. We’re having a tough time seeing the positive in this.


But these are Cali kids. They’re undeterred by a little smoke in the air. As our colleague back in LA, Mr Whiteman, said, “To them it just smells like a Lakers victory bonfire outside of Crypto.com Arena.” (Are those a thing?)


So, after breakfast, we boarded the buses and headed out to brave the East Coast smokepocalypse. Our first stop was Mount Vernon, the former home of George Washington. Even though the picturesque setting along the Potomac was difficult to take in through the haze, the students were able to tour the estate’s elegant mansion, walk through its gardens, step into its various outbuildings, and tour its excellent onsite museum.


After touring Washington’s house at Mount Vernon and walking the grounds, Leah, Fia, Lily, and Maya Kate hurriedly approached Mr Brannan with what looked like an important question. As they approached, he wondered if they’d ask him about the iron key prominently displayed in George Washington’s house that opened the gates of the Bastille and was gifted to him by the Marquis de Lafayette while the French Revolution was still ongoing. Or, maybe they’d ask him about the memorial to the enslaved people who built and maintained the estate for decades. He was wrong. They wanted to ask if they could play the Wordle (and got it in four guesses, by the way).


Of course, figuring out the Wordle wasn’t the only highlight of Mount Vernon. Here’s some thoughts from the kids:


Jackson: The sword collection and detailed exhibits on the restoration process were neat. 


Jessica: I could have spent more time in the museum. There were so many cool things. I wanted to do more of the interactive exhibits. 


Micaela: I found everything in the museum so interesting. 


Tara: I’ve always wanted to experience a 4-D movie, and now I have. The short film showing all of Washington’s battles during the revolution, with the shaking seats when cannons were fired to the snow falling during the Battle of Trenton, was really fun. 


After Mount Vernon, we took a short trip to Old Town Alexandria, a captivating historic district situated along the Potomac River in Northern Virginia. Its history dates back to 1749, when it was founded as a tobacco trading post. George Washington frequented the area and ran up more than a few hefty bar tabs there in his day with the help of a few of his friends. Our students didn’t visit any of the establishments where the Father of Our Country ran up those tabs, but they did have a chance to wander down its cobblestoned streets and past its well-preserved historical buildings. The chaperones also ate in a restaurant situated in a historic building along the waterfront. Did the kids? Maybe . . . but more likely than not, they went to the Five Guys down the road.


With bellies full and some kinder buddy gifts purchased from the local shops, we hopped on the bus to head back to DC. On the bus ride over, we shifted gears to prepare to experience the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which stands as a poignant reminder of the atrocities committed during one of the darkest hours of the 19th century. From the moment you enter its exhibits, you’re hit by the sheer horror of the gradual dehumanization of millions and the systematic slaughter of people in the lands occupied by Nazi Germany. The Holocaust Memorial Museum leaves a lasting impression, serving as a crucial reminder of the importance of preserving memory and working towards a more just and compassionate world.


It’s hard to capture the feelings you experience while meandering through the museum, but we asked your kids to try to do so. Here’s what they said:


Senya: The Holocaust Museum had many impactful moments, one of which was a real train car from the trains that carried victims to their fate. The invisible yet present figures standing within the dark, silent train car within the museums made a heavy impact on me.


Lily: I could barely listen to the video interviews of people taken from families. It happened so long ago, but they could still barely speak to tell the story.


Nalah: The many, many names all around the museum. You couldn’t keep track of how many. And that probably wasn’t all that died.


Fia: The picture of the shaved hair was unbelievable. There was so, so much. It really shows the human toll. It’s hard to imagine the numbers of victims till you see something like that. 


Jessica: Having the railcar in the museum was impactful. There was a sign saying how many people were fitted into each car. You could then step into that car and it was so small. 


Agustya: There were survivors there. I got to speak with them. They were really nice, but their stories were so sad. It’s amazing they could still be nice people. 


Lucas: I saw and watched some of the video interviews for a while. What they lived through was scary. 


Sadie: I was able to experience unique and special places. The Holocaust Museum was the highlight of my day because I got to connect my reading of Night to the information from the museum.


Gavin: I was surprised. I knew a little bit about the Holocaust but I didn’t know it was so deep, you know.


Callan: We don’t see hatred as much in California because of how liberal the state is, but it still exists and this shows that.


Finley: I thought it was sad because of how much murdering occurred during that time.


Dillon: It gave more insight into all the things we have studied throughout our time at WNS. 

We need to combat hate within our own community. 


Trevor: You can look within as well. Our actions and words affect others. We should always be mindful of that. 


Next, our itinerary took us to the National Portrait Gallery. Though not originally on our itinerary, it’s such a worthwhile museum that students can enjoy in a short time, even if they can’t see everything. Most headed to the portraits of the Presidents and seemed to particularly enjoy the very different portrait of Barack Obama and photograph of Donald Trump.


Dinner in Chinatown followed, with students getting to choose their own culinary adventure. According to our informal survey, Shake Shack, Five Guys, McDonalds, and poke bowls were favorites.


After dinner, we all hopped on the bus and went off to the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Korean Memorial and the World War II Memorial. Students were given tons of interesting facts about the designs of the memorials. Then students had time to explore. These are some of the thoughts they had while at these historic sights: 


Amber: Is this the same spot where Forrest Gump and Jenny were?


Aiden: I stood where MLK delivered his speech. It felt inspirational.  


Isaac: I was struck by the silence at the and the impact the number of names had on me. 


Brooklyn: I am so grateful for all the places we have been able to go to this week. 


Stay tuned for the events of our final day and departure. We have our final debrief session and visits to the National Air and Space Museum and the Library of Congress, followed by our departure from Reagan International Airport.

We will be arriving at LAX at 8:00pm on Delta flight 380. Remember that you or a designated person is picking up your child(ren) from the baggage claim in terminal 3. A reminder and any updates will be emailed tomorrow.

This edition of the DC blog was brought to you by the 8th grade chaperones and the thoughts from the class of 2023, and there’s more where that came from. Out!

Your 8th grade chaperones

Washington DC 2023 – Day 4

By | DC Trip 2023

Washington D.C. 2023



Last night as we typed up this blog in Mr Brannan’s hotel room, Mr Shipley drew the short straw and was forced to go around to the boys’ rooms to help them clean up their spaces and pack away their dirty clothes. This was no small task either. As Mr Young was walking down the hallway last night, he noticed one of the boys’ rooms doors was open, and as he approached, he was hit with a funk. Now, we’d like to say it was a go-go music-type of funk the kids had picked up after their visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl yesterday, but this funk didn’t hit his ears, it hit his nostrils. And why was the room door open? Because those boys couldn’t even stand the smell themselves. They were trying to air out their room! 


So, we’re thankful for Mr Shipley for completing that task, even though he was forced into it. We hope that he’s not a shadow of himself today after what he saw and smelled last night.


Okay, onto Wednesday . . .


After breakfast, the kids were split into groups to deliberate a current issue being discussed in Congress:  gun policy in the US. Unlike in Congress, however, the discussions were more nuanced, they actually listened to what each other were saying, and they were willing to concede certain points based on facts. That’s not to say they agreed on everything, but it didn’t result in unnecessary bickering. One group’s passion for arguing even carried over into our next bus ride and our walk to the next stop. 


Here are some of their thoughts:


Wyatt:  Change is difficult. It doesn’t often happen immediately. It’ll be a long complicated process, especially if we try to make everyone happy. 


Gideon:  To end gun violence with an outright ban is necessary. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. 


Lily: Suicide and mass shootings are a big issue and gun control should take into account getting guns out of the hands of people who might take their own life and others. 


Charis: Guns should be for the armed forces only, leaving people who want to fend for themselves with stun guns, so there are no deaths.


Jessica: Stand your ground laws make the most sense, it prevents further issues from starting.


Levi: The government should be in charge of gun production and allow people to shoot at gun ranges that are approved by the government. Normal civilians should have access to rubber guns to lessen fatalities.


Caleb: I think guns should be illegal because of how high the kill count has been.


Jake: They should make sure you verify your age before selling guns.


Max: A federal background check is the best option to lower casualties.


Christian: Stand your ground laws have caused some problems throughout our nation. It creates more violence from what I have seen.


Riley: The first policy that should be passed is universal background checks but red flag laws are just as important. They go hand in hand.


Ava: Red Flag laws could help people with mental illness and can decrease things like suicide and self harm.


Liam: Background checks are great but might cost people more money in private sales and there needs to be an easy way for someone to get into the background check system.


Paige: I like that we were all able to have a voice in this simulation and that we were all able to speak for our group at least once.


After our deliberation, we boarded the bus for the Rayburn House Office Building where Rep. Adam Schiff set aside time from his day to speak with our students. His office confirmed in the morning he’d be available for ten minutes. He stayed for twenty. At first, he gave a broad overview to the students about his job and the laws they’d recently passed. Then, he allowed them to ask questions, even turning away his scheduler at one point to take more. 


The questions they asked him were about why he got into politics, gun violence, and broadly about other pressing issues facing America today. Rep. Schiff responded to each question with a measured response, taking particular time to talk about ways to address gun violence, protect American democracy, make the current economy work for the average person, and the necessity of protecting our environment. The kids listened to his words, and even if they all didn’t fully grasp how big of a deal it was to be having a dialogue with Rep. Schiff in the moment, we know that they’ll look back on this occasion and cherish the fact that they were given this opportunity. We’d like to extend a huge thank-you to Patrick Fischler, Lauren Bowles, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for making this meeting possible!


After speaking with Rep. Schiff, we walked around the Capitol building so students could see the heart of American democracy. While we were still a little bummed we wouldn’t be getting a tour of the building, the students still looked up at the dome of the building with some wonder. It really is a cool and massive building to look up at in person.


After lunch, we headed to a Community Action Seminar where the students heard from a member of Youth Service America, a person who helps young people find their voice and launch projects on a large scale, similar to the ones our 8th graders completed on a small scale for their SWIM project. 


After her presentation, students were asked what are some reasons why they volunteer. They responded accordingly: 


Josh:  “When others are happy, I’ll be happy.”


Christian: “Being from a privileged background, I want to help those less privileged.” 


Jake: “I like to see the direct impact I can have.”


Jessica:  “Seeing issues that could be improved in the place where I live.“


Wyatt: “I like to volunteer because I like that warm feeling it gives me.”


After the YSA presentation, we all hopped back on the bus and made our way to the National Archives where there were original copies of the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Constitution. Most were amazed and very excited with the exception of a couple who described them as, “old pieces of paper.” Though that was the main attraction, there were three other exhibits, namely one that featured sports memorabilia, like an original Green Bay Packers contract for $110 a game. Ironically (or maybe unironically), this captivated those most uninterested in our nation’s founding documents.


Our next stop on today’s schedule was the White House, and some students were also able to visit nearby Black Lives Matter Plaza. Students got some information about more recent events in these spaces and briefly discussed the importance of the right to protest in a democracy. This is, of course, another iconic place for photos, and students made good use of our time there.


At the Nationals Game students fed off the excitement of the chaperones. From yelling anytime Mr Shipley and Mr Young yelled toward the field, students seemed to be most entertained by all the food options available, specifically Dippin’ Dots ice cream. There was also a large following that grew for the Nationals left fielder, Lane Thomas, by some of our students. Later on we found out the following was only for the possibility that a ball might be thrown in our direction. Unfortunately, even with all the attempts, no ball was thrown our way.


After the 7th inning stretch, we decided to start the wave. We roped in some other school tour groups in the sections around us and soon we had nearly half the stadium joining along with us. But, each and every time, the wave stopped in the section where the Nationals Champions Club resides. Our only conclusion:  there’s no heart of a champion in that club anymore. The Nationals fans just don’t have it. 


Tomorrow, we will visit Mount Vernon and explore and eat lunch in Old Town Alexandria. In the afternoon, we’ll head to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, followed by reflection and some downtime at the National Mall with games led by Mr Shipley. Dinner will take place in Chinatown, and night memorial visits will end our busy Thursday, and last full day in DC.

Your 8th grade chaperones

Washington DC 2023 – Day 3

By | DC Trip 2023

Washington D.C. 2023



Hello from DC on the 79th anniversary of D-Day. Prior to the invasion of Normandy, General Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a famous speech in which he told the troops, “The eyes of the world are upon you.”


Similarly, each morning we tell your kids before we head out to the sites, “The eyes of your teachers are upon you.”


Like with other major US events, a speech was written in the event of a worst case scenario. In this speech that luckily never had to be given, Eisenhower wrote, “My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.” 


From what I understand, Ms Reimann also has an email ready to send in case your kids get maniacally hopped-up on too much sugar and hijack the tour from the chaperones! We’re just kidding, of course, your kids are lovely young people who would never do such a thing. We are worried about their sugar consumption at times, though. 


After a hearty breakfast, our first stop of the day was the Air Force Memorial. The spires of the memorial reach over 400 feet into the sky and look quite impressive, towering over the city beneath them. The spires take on the shape of the contrails in a “bomb burst” maneuver, the specialty of the Thunderbird demonstration squadron, only the fourth contrail isn’t present to symbolize a missing pilot, the reason for the memorial’s construction and a maneuver sometimes performed at funerals. 


The Air Force Memorial overlooks the Pentagon, and students were able to see where one of the hijacked planes crashed into it on 9/11, our last stop this evening, which provides a nice bookend for the day. 


Last year, Mr Brannan decided it would be fun to tell the students the memorial was built for Goose from Top Gun. Most of last year’s kiddos readily believed that fib. This year’s class was more discerning. Perhaps they paid more attention during his lessons about disinformation . . . or maybe they just have less trust in what he tells them. He’s taking it as a win either way. He is a source of information after all and shouldn’t be the only one they rely on for what is and isn’t a fact. 


We then made our way to Arlington National Cemetery, which holds a profound significance as the final resting place for over 440,000 military veterans and their families, including notable figures such as President John F. Kennedy and other prominent public servants. As students walked among the rows of meticulously maintained tombstones, they were enveloped in an atmosphere of solemnity and reverence. A few gunshot salutes rang through the air, reminding everyone that Arlington remains an active burial ground. There are roughly 28 burials performed there each weekday. 


During our time at Arlington, we had the special opportunity for both Josh and Jackson to see their great-grandfather’s and grandfather’s tombs, respectively. Both were very excited and were walking ahead of Mr Young. Little did the three know that this was going to be a mile hike to the tombstones, a two-mile hike uphill the whole way back to the groups which would take an hour and change to walk. As we made it to the first site, we were able to find Josh’s great-grandfather. We paid our respects, and it was an emotional moment for all three of us, particularly for Josh. Jackson and Mr Young then left Josh to have a moment while we sought the grave of Jackson’s grandfather. After initially searching in the wrong section, we were able to find his tombstone as well, which triggered another  understandably emotional moment. As we all met up at Jackson’s grandfather’s gravesite, we were able to see a color guard preparing for a funeral that was happening shortly. Many questions then flew from Josh and Jackson: “What are the guns for?” “Why is that other guy just standing there?” “Can we stay and watch the 21-gun salute?” After Mr Young answered a few, we started our long hike uphill to find our workshop group.


Partway through our tour of Arlington, Mr Brannan pulled aside Christian, Jessica, Maya Kate, and Levi to head to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and check in with the elite Sentinels of the 3rd Infantry US Regiment. When they arrived at the check-in location to receive their instructions, they saw a stern-faced guard with a rifle on his shoulder rhythmically and ceremonially walk past them and into the guard room. 


Uh oh, he looks intimidating, was clearly the first thought that popped into their minds, as Mr Brannan noticed their nervous chatter turned to complete silence. Once they met the guard, however, they found him very nice and friendly. He walked them through the ceremony and chatted with them about their visit to DC. After the ceremony, the guard disappeared back into his room. The kids even heard laughter and then another guard arrived with takeaway food, which they found amusing. This must’ve been the moment they realized those elite Sentinels are just regular people, too. 


By the way, the ceremony went flawlessly. Levi, Jessica, Christian, and Maya Kate were wonderful representatives of WNS, and we couldn’t be prouder of them. 


Here are our wreath layers’ thoughts on being part of the ceremony:


Christian— I was very happy to be able to try a new, really cool experience with this laying of the wreath. I didn’t really know what to expect going into this, but I had a lot of fun, and I’m glad that I was chosen for this.


Jessica— It was fun. I was a little bit nervous. I’m really happy I got the honor to do it, and it’s something I’ll never get to do again, a surreal, unique experience.


Levi— It was really cool getting to do something only a few people have done, like government officials and dignitaries. I was also proud to represent the Boy Scouts.


Maya Kate— I was honored to have been chosen for this opportunity to represent WNS during the Wreath Laying Ceremony.


Here are a few thoughts from their classmates who watched the ceremony:


Ché Thomas— That was really cool and powerful. We are super lucky to have been able to have them do that.


Ronan & Max— We were proud to promote the Boy Scouts by wearing our uniforms.


After Arlington, we headed to U Street to eat at the historic Ben’s Chili Bowl. Mr Zacuto told the new chaperones to prepare themselves to have their taste buds ignited and senses tantalized. As the students settled in in the back of the restaurant, they eagerly indulged in fries with chili and cheese available for their dipping pleasures. And the choices! Oh, the choices! They delighted in selecting either a sizzling half smoke or a juicy, flame-grilled burger, each bite bursting with succulent satisfaction.

But Ben’s Chili Bowl is more than just a place to satisfy our cravings; it is a hallowed ground steeped in historical significance. The air buzzed with intriguing stories as we learned about the pivotal role this iconic eatery played in the community and throughout the years. From the shadows of the past, we were transported to the moments that defined a generation—the haunting echoes of MLK’s assassination and the powerful movement of #dontmuteDC.

Arriving at the Smithsonians, the students were given four options from which to choose. The National Museum of American History (chaperoned by Ms Reimann), the National Museum of the American Indian (with Mr Brannan), the National Museum of Natural History (with Mr Young), and the National Gallery of Art (with Ms Youngblood and Mr Shipley). The overwhelming choice by students was to explore the Natural History Museum. A few students went to the Art Museum. A handful went to the American History Museum. And no student chose to explore the Museum of the American Indian.


The moment Mr Brannan found out no student would be joining him, we’re pretty sure we saw him starting to cry. Was he sad? Was he happy? We don’t know. He ran off to the Museum of the American Indian all alone before anyone could confirm. (It’s a great museum by the way and very quiet and peaceful there based on his experience this afternoon.)


After the Smithsonian exploration, we were off to Georgetown, where the kids were allowed to explore the neighborhood in groups without their chaperones. This was an opportunity for them to get some dinner as well. Surprisingly, we saw a few kids choosing to eat salads, though the majority still opted for pizza and ice cream. 


Finley’s brother also made the effort to meet her after work in Georgetown. He offered to show her around and take her to a local eating establishment. She chose Chipotle.


At the end of our Georgetown experience, we met in Georgetown Waterfront Park to celebrate Gigi’s birthday! Ms Reimann and Ms Youngblood made a run to Georgetown Cupcake and we sang happy birthday by the Potomac before chowing down on a wonderful assortment of cupcakes.


Next we hopped on the bus and headed out to visit a few monuments as the sun set over DC.

At the Einstein Memorial, the students were absolutely buzzing with excitement as they eagerly clambered onto the statue of the great Einstein himself. We couldn’t resist capturing the perfect picture to forever immortalize this incredible moment. Moving on, our adventure led us to the solemn yet awe-inspiring Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. As we approached, Gavin George, with a beaming smile on his face, was welcomed by his loving grandfather, making the experience even more poignant. The students, filled with a mixture of reverence and deep respect, gazed upon the mighty Pentagon, a symbol of resilience in the face of adversity.


Students throughout our time in DC have been very observant. Finley today shouted out, “I didn’t know there were state names on the top!” of the Lincoln Memorial. Then, Mr. Young posed a question: “Finley! Do you know why the states  are separated into two tiers?” This started a heated guessing game. Agustya said, “Isn’t it separated by the states that were colonies and those that were not.”  Dillon guessed, “Northern States and southern states” after some help from Mr. Brannan and our CloseUp guide. The students finally came up with the states that were part of the Union before the Civil War and after the Civil War.


After a long day, we made it back to our hotel and debriefed all the cool things we saw throughout the day. We also previewed our next day, where we unfortunately had to break some bad news. We received word from the Capitol that our tour had to be canceled due to a last-minute, important event. During the afternoon, Mr Brannan and the CloseUp staff scrambled to try to find a way to adjust the schedule in order to find a workaround, but nothing could be done. So, while that’s a bummer, we’re still excited to go to the steps of Congress tomorrow to meet with a Congressional representative and tour the Capitol Visitor Center Museum.


After lunch, we’ll participate in a Community Action Seminar where the students will connect with a local Youth Service Activist, then to the National Archives to see some of our Nation’s founding documents, and then we’ll round out the day with a baseball game at Nationals Park!

Your 8th grade chaperones

Washington DC 2023 – Day 2

By | DC Trip 2023

Washington D.C. 2023


7:30am. Time for teachers to knock on doors and see if the kids were nearly ready to start the day. We quickly discovered the kids were unprepared to woefully unprepared with the exception of the room with a majority of Boy Scouts staying in it (shoutout to Levi, Agustya, and Ronan #alwaysbeprepared). But, with the reminder that breakfast was being served downstairs, the boys quickly got ready to shovel eggs and bacon down. Whether they showered or brushed their teeth cannot be confirmed.

On the girls floor, “Shake It Off” was the soundtrack of this morning’s dreaded wake-up visit Ms. Youngblood made it to each girl’s room. Not only were they disappointed to end their beauty rest but even more somber to find out they had only 30 minutes to meet in the hallway for breakfast. As Ms. Reimann and Ms. Youngblood begged girls to grab their daypacks and lanyards so we could get the coffee we desperately needed, we got “one more minute” here, “five more minutes” there, and “I thought we could skip breakfast.”

After breakfast we departed for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial where our CloseUp guides asked questions and told stories about FDR’s eventful presidency. To Mr Brannan’s relief, Zella and Phoebe quickly offered up facts about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl to make it clear to the CloseUp guides that he’s at least competent at his job . . . or at least fool them into thinking that.

As a group, we also learned that 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, spread out across 7.5 acres along the Tidal Basin.

While walking through the FDR Memorial, the chaperones roped in Editor-in-Chief of the Fly-by-Times, Phoebe, to help them with their blog.

Here’s some quotes she snagged for us as she interviewed classmates during their walk:

“I found the memorial calming.” —Trevor

“Very majestic. I like the water features and the accurate sculptures.” —Lev

“It shows a real sense of history. Makes me proud to be an American.” —Lola

“It was cool to learn the meaning behind the design.” —Charis

“Adding the statue of him in a wheelchair was a nice touch. It shows that differently-abled people can still accomplish great things.” —Matilda

“The geese are a nice touch.” —Gigi

After wrapping up at the FDR Memorial, we walked to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Memorial. Students took plenty of pictures of the surrounding monuments and scenic views, and close shots of each other (oddly close at times, like they were zooming in on microbes on each other’s faces). Someone spotted an ice cream truck and they all screamed for ice cream, to find out it was closed and sold sandwiches. But with hopeful hearts an ice cream truck did appear. 


Luckily, in between licks of ice cream, the kids had the opportunity to walk past the towering statue of Dr. King, and past the walls of inspiring quotes and symbolic elements. The memorial serves as a reminder of Dr. King’s unwavering commitment to justice, equality, and social change, inviting visitors to reflect on his extraordinary contributions to the advancement of civil rights and the ongoing struggle for a more just and inclusive society.


At the memorial, Lily, Vishnu, and Brooklyn also recorded a morning meditation utilizing one of the quotes on the memorial’s walls. It will be featured at Wednesday’s community gathering.


Next, we hopped on the bus and made our way to the Jefferson Memorial, which rests across the Tidal Basin from the MLK and FDR Memorials. 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, Nick arrived at an interesting conclusion:  informed citizens can hold their government accountable. Pretty good, kids!


At the memorial, the students carried on their discussions from their social studies class, delving into the complexities of memorializing and honoring historical figures. Specifically, they debated the merits of memorializing Thomas Jefferson and whether it is possible to separate the man from his historical role. Although we didn’t fully answer these questions, the chaperones and CloseUp guides were thoroughly impressed with the students’ nuanced understanding of history.


Jefferson’s statue symbolically looks toward the White House with a stern gaze to make sure the executive branch doesn’t overstep its bounds. Of course, a stern look doesn’t always keep people from overstepping their bounds as parents and teachers well know. 


Also of note, there were lots of helicopters flying over us while we walked through the FDR, MLK, and Jefferson memorials. Each one that passed over us was left with the same exclamation by the kids:


“It’s the President!”


Who are we to say? Maybe Joe was testing out many different helicopters and many different routes on this day. That’s certainly what the kids believed. 


Lunchtime brought us to the Reagan Building—an office building with a large food court. Despite it housing many important government offices, including the US Customs and Border Protection, the US Agency for International Development, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Due to the nature of these agencies’ work, there’s heightened security for any visitor, even those just heading to the food court. So, students left their backpacks on the bus to make the process easier and help us get to the African American Museum of History and Culture on time. (Who knew that getting a Subway sandwich could be a 45-minute wait?)


As we prepared to gather for our departure from the Reagan Building, Wyatt’s public push-up antics were finally called out by a complete stranger, a student from another school. Before we knew what was happening, they were in a push-up duel to see who could outlast the other. With a defeated sigh, Wyatt collapsed in exhaustion and conceded victory. (To be fair, Wyatt had been doing push-ups throughout the morning, so he wasn’t really fresh for this contest.) “You suck at push-ups!” she yelled at Wyatt’s retreating back.


After lunch we walked over to the African American History and Culture Museum. Some students had purchased snacks and kinder buddy gifts in the Reagan Building, and since they left their backpacks on the bus and weren’t going back to the bus at this point, they were forced to carry their newly acquired belongings by hand.


The African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C., stands as a powerful testament to the rich and diverse contributions of African Americans throughout American history. It’s one of the chaperones’ favorite stops each year. We love letting the students step into its hallowed halls where they are transported on a profound journey, spanning centuries of struggles, triumphs, and resilience. 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. Through thought-provoking artifacts, interactive displays, and compelling stories, the museum confronts the painful legacy of racism while celebrating the indomitable spirit and cultural achievements of African Americans. It serves as a sacred space for reflection, education, and healing, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the African American heritage and its enduring impact on the fabric of American society.


After exiting the museum, we broke into groups to debrief the experience and talk about our favorite parts of the museum. Gideon commented on how he enjoyed the interactive music experience. Charis said she enjoyed the sports hall with its memorabilia and exhibits. Phoebe really enjoyed the quotes on the walls throughout the museum. Nick was in awe at how the museum was able to visibly show and provide powerful visual examples for many of the events African Americans experienced that are generally only experienced through text or speech.


After our museum experience, we had downtime on the National Mall. Ms Youngblood and Mr Young took a group of very enthusiastic students to some food trucks. Callan, who had been begging for almost 20 minutes and had to be practically dragged past one earlier in the day, was the first to jump up, run to her bag, and get her money.  Most of the group got boba or ice cream. Mr Young and Charis decided to try and find a fun food truck but both ended up just jumping on the ice cream train.   


During all the food truck commotion, there was a separate and rather sizable group desperate for some type of physical activity. Carrying around a frisbee just for this moment, Mr Shipley yelled at Aiden, “Go long!” starting an impromptu massive game of catch. After a few throws from kids around the group, it was quite apparent almost none had ever thrown a frisbee before. Even Gavin, who excels in anything athletic, looked like a fish out of water. A PE lesson broke out and there was some improvement, namely a dot of a throw from Nick completed with a Randy Moss-like catch from Gideon, but let’s just say we’ll be purchasing a football in case there needs to be another source of athletic entertainment later in the week.


As we were getting on the bus heading for dinner, Ms Reimann noticed something she’d never seen before. She pointed it out to the other chaperones. We hadn’t seen anything like it before either. It was genius. Cooper had created a shoulder sling bag out of his 8th grade hoodie. He and his friends came up with n.U.g.g.3.tTM for Cooper’s brilliant invention. Look for it soon in stores!


For dinner, we went to Busboys and Poets, where students got to have the wonderful experience of having to wait while 60 individual different portions were cooked. While waiting, one table decided to conduct a science experiment and see what happens when you combine ketchup, salt, pepper and sugar in a water cup. The answer was a mess. Another group of kids decided to play how many people can we fit at a ten-person table? (They quickly found out only ten because that’s what their chaperones told them.) Once the food came, there was an eerie silence from the students and much less talking. The chicken sandwich was the popular choice; so popular they had to make an extra special batch for the teachers.


Tomorrow, we have another packed day. We’ll be going to Ben’s Chili Bowl, Georgetown, go on a Smithsonian exploration, see a few more memorials, and head to Arlington National Cemetery where we’ll watch Christian, Jessica, Maya Kate, and Levi lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier. We can’t wait!

Your 8th grade chaperones

Washington DC 2023 – Day 1

By | DC Trip 2023

Washington D.C. 2023

Day 1

Aaaannndd we’re off! We have to say first that this year’s group of kids was much quieter on the bus ride to the airport than last year’s group. Is it because they’re generally better behaved? Or is it because they stayed up far too late last night to have any energy left for our early morning departure? Only time will tell. Either way, our ears are thankful.


Departing from WNS, we had about two and a half hours before departing from the West Coast for our nation’s capital. While the volume level in the bus remained reasonable, murmurs of excitement could be heard. Mr Brannan wondered if the kids were excited about the amazing history they would soon get to see. Ms Reimann wondered if the kids were excited about the possibility of staying in a hotel room with their friends. The truth was revealed in the form of a question:


“We’re early, so we’re definitely going to have time to buy snacks at the airport, right?”


Of course, after years of teaching, the chaperones all knew that there are no certainties on field trips. “We’ll see.”


Upon arriving at LAX, our bus hit a wall of traffic. It was almost as if the cars there were trying to make up for the lack of congestion elsewhere on the roads. At a snail’s pace, we crawled to our terminal. The only benefit to this situation was watching the masterful maneuvering skills of Ricky and Orlando, as they weaved the buses through the traffic, seemingly creating space for themselves out of nowhere.


“Okay, off the bus. Line up with your bag.”


“Will there still be time to buy snacks?”


“We’ll see.”


As the check-in process dragged on, the kids’ excitement of getting to start spending their DC cash allowance turned to nervousness. All-in-all, however, we got through the process with relatively few hitches. Sure, Lily tried to put her bag on the conveyor belt without a luggage tag, and for a moment it appeared there wasn’t a ticket reserved for Mr Brannan to get on the plane (Does this mean I can go home, sleep, and then get on a later flight?), but these catastrophes were avoided and we headed to security where the only hitch was Ms Reimann’s carryon being flagged for having an excessive amount of OTC and prescription medicines. 


As her bag was being searched and she explained the nature of and reason for its contents, the kids lined up across from a Hudson News so Mr Brannan, Mr Young, Mr Shipley, and Ms Youngblood could make sure everyone was accounted for. For the kids, this was torture.


“Why can’t we go in there? It’s just right there.”


Did we need to keep the kids waiting off to the side for as long as we did? No. Did we? You betcha. And then, we made them walk past the Hudson News without letting them go in!


“There’s not enough time to get snacks anymore, is there?”


“We’ll see.”


Once we got to the gate, however, Ms Reimann had the pleasure of letting the kids know they could run off to spend their 🤔hard earned 🤔cash for the next fifteen minutes, and they obeyed her more closely than at any other point this year, dutifully going to the nearby gift shops, the bookstores, and the fast food restaurants 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 we boarded the plane, the kids received more good news:  there were TVs. Yes! But the headphone socket is an aux input. No! But they’re passing out headphones that work. Yay!


As we neared the end of the flight, I (Ms Reimann) was approached by a flight attendant. “Are you in charge of this student group?”


At this, my heart sank a little, as good news rarely follows this question. However, the flight attendant went on to rave about how well behaved our students had been throughout the flight, how polite and pleasant to have on board. They even repeated this as we were exiting the plane! This was praise that we as chaperones greatly appreciated, and we must share the credit with all of you, their parents. ❤️


As we arrived at baggage claim, there was much excitement to help grab all of our bags off the carousel. Charis and Agustya’s hands shot right up in the air and took charge along with Mr. Young in collecting the bags. After 20 minutes of collecting the bags one was missing . . . Senya’s. The carousel kept spinning but Senya’s bag was nowhere to be found. We then heard that there was a jam in baggage carousel 2. Our minds went to the darkest places. Senya’s bag is stuck and will not be able to be secured for hours. We then had all the students go to the bus while Mr. Young and Senya waited for the bag. As all the students disappeared out of the terminal, low and behold, Senya’s bag was sitting right where all the bags were left after being collected.


Once out of the terminal, we hopped on the bus and headed to our hotel. A heated debate on whether the different Sour Patch colors were actually different flavors ensued and a poll was taken on who brought shower shoes to fight “the fungi on the shower floor” (8 out of the 50, if you were wondering). Everyone remained cordial, but we were a bus divided.


At the hotel, a hearty bbq dinner was served and we met our Close Up guides for the week before hopping back on the bus again to head to the Marine Corps War Memorial. The Marine Corps War Memorial is based on the iconic, Pulitzer Prize winning photograph by Joe Rosenthal of marines raising a US flag over Iwo Jima. The image is so widespread and recognizable that almost every student was aware of it to some degree or another when shown a picture of it prior to the DC trip. 


Even though they recognized it, however, they didn’t all know its significance. As the students walked around the memorial, taking in the sheer size of it and the expressions on the faces of the sculpted soldiers, you could see connections forming and synapses firing behind their eyes. Like medieval pilgrims staring up at the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral or a magnificent shrine after a long journey, the sensorial effect heightened their understanding of the bravery and the incredible sacrifices of so many that inspired the memorial’s construction. Sometimes, you just . . . have to be there.


Speaking of being there, Allison’s aunt and uncle were waiting for us at the Marine Corps War Memorial. This was a surprise to us and Allison, particularly when Allison’s uncle saw her and shouted out, “meatball!” Unfortunately for Allison, this nickname she likely had carefully kept from us will now be used by every chaperone for the rest of the trip.


We’re hopeful that the kids overcome the temptation to stay up late (and the feeling that it’s three hours earlier than the clock suggests) and get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we tour a number of memorials and spend a chunk of our afternoon at the African American Museum of History and Culture. We’ll catch up with you all tomorrow!


Your 8th grade chaperones

Washington DC 2022 – Day 6

By | DC Trip 2022

Washington D.C. 2022

Day 6

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


  • Based on the spending habits of your kids, we believe the next billionaire will be the person who establishes a monopoly over the different kiosks selling food with high sugar content and DC themed souvenirs around DC to school tour groups.
  • There are a handful of talented magicians amongst your kiddos based on the way their masks kept disappearing after each outdoor stop. (Don’t worry, we had plenty of extras we gave them before they got back on the bus again!)
  • Daniel will always rush to the defense of a classmate when a chaperone redirects them. He might not even know what happened, but he’s there with a story and a defense. If anyone’s looking for a highly-talented PR spin doctor, he might be your man.
  • The experiment carried out by your children to create a diet based on inverting the nutrition food pyramid was inconclusive. I’m sure next year’s class of WNSers will happily pick up where your kids left off.


Here are the students’ main takeaways, favorite parts, or both


  • Henry F:  “You have to respect and honor symbolism. It’s important to accept history and to learn from it.”
  • Devan:  “My favorite part was Arlington National Cemetery and seeing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the changing of the guard. I also really liked the African American Museum of History of Culture and United States Holocaust Museum.”
  • Clare:  “Walking around Georgetown and buying a cowboy hat at TJ Maxx was my favorite part of the trip!”
  • Chloe:  “I learned how important having memorials is so you can remember people who worked hard for this country. My highlight was getting to see the Abraham Lincoln Memorial.”
  • Mattea:  “I learned about different memorials and things I hadn’t known about before.” 
  • Jaeli:  “I learned about important figures who have shaped our history today.” 
  • Max:  “Everything is pretty expensive here.” 
  • Sophia:  “I enjoyed getting to be on the trip and going to DC with my class.”
  • Nathanael P:  “I learned that I cared more about the experiences.” 
  • Nathanial V:  “I learned the Capitol is now three times the size it originally was.”
  • Presley:  “Talking to the representative from Gomez’s staff was my favorite because it gave me insight on a typical day at Capitol Hill and gave me insight on how to get a similar job, if I want, when I’m older.
  • Peyton:  “How Thomas Jefferson had kids with someone he enslaved.”
  • Zai:  “Time flies when you’re having fun!” 
  • Caleb Y:  “I learned that there is only one monument in DC (the Washington Monument) and the rest are memorials.”
  • Caleb G:  “My favorite part was seeing Old Town Alexandria and the African American Museum of history of Culture.”
  • Dom:  “I learned to open up and try new things.”
  • Daniel:  “Ranger Pete at Fredericksburg was my favorite thing.”
  • Aylin: “I enjoyed seeing the view from the Air Force Memorial on day one.”
  • Dawni:  “I learned how to approach each memorial in an open and respectful way.” 
  • Jada:  “My favorite part was walking around the Natural History Museum with my friends and seeing all the jewels.”
  • Jade:  “It feels great to learn about these historical figures and the balance of what is right and wrong and complexities and gray areas.”
  • Charlie:  “I learned that monuments can have a lot deeper meanings. If we dig deeper, we will find the truth behind these memorials.”
  • Gavin:  “I really enjoyed touring the African American Museum of History and Culture and the United States Holocaust Museum. It made me reflect on life and how fragile it can be.”
  • Henry B:  “The Holocaust Museum was interesting and I liked exploring Alexandria.”
  • Zeke:  “Monticello was my favorite part because it was cool to see where Thomas Jefferson lived and slept.”
  • Sam S:  “Thomas Jefferson ate the most exquisite French meal of the time—Mac ‘n cheese and ice cream.”
  • Sam M:  “What it means to be an activist.” 
  • Sadie:  “Going to old town Alexandria, sitting by the fountain, talking with Zoë, that was all good.”
  • Omar:  “I learned the history of the good and bad of the individuals behind US history.” 
  • Magnus:  “I like museums more than I thought.” 
  • Sebastian:  “I liked the Library of Congress because it was dope.”
  • Ella:  “DC is where it all started for politics”
  • Leila:  “I learned that there is a lot of symbolism in art and past events. Respect comes through many different ways.”
  • Asa:  “I’ve been looking at a lot of things wrong and the memorials have given me a new perspective.”
  • Selah:  “One takeaway was that I have to check-in with myself, physically and mentally. My favorite part of being in DC was the African American Museum of History and Culture because it was beautiful and they did a great job jumping through history. I felt comfortable there.”
  • Ruthie:  “I learned about the history of US presidents and a highlight was getting to see Thomas Jefferson’s house, and the good and bad of what he did.”
  • Olivia:  “I learned about Emmett Till. That was one of the biggest things that I learned.”
  • Zoë: “I learned about memorials and the different details in each memorial. My favorite part was the Library of Congress and the Washington Monument.”
  • Maddie: “I found the Holocaust Memorial to be very impactful.”
  • Hamish: “Even if you don’t want to eat somewhere for dinner, it’s more important to have fun with your friends instead.”
  • Noah:  “I learned our class can be kind of crazy, but we’re always respectful at memorials.”

Washington DC 2022 – Day 5

By | DC Trip 2022

Washington D.C. 2022

Day 5

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!


Washington DC 2022 – Day 4

By | DC Trip 2022

Washington D.C. 2022

Day 4

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.”

Chloe:  “Chinatown.”

Sam:  “Lunch.”

Zoë:  “The protestor in Lafayette Park.”

Ella:  “The activism talk.”

Jade:  “The African American Museum of History and Culture.”

Washington DC 2022 – Day 3

By | DC Trip 2022

Washington D.C. 2022

Day 3

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.”

“Henry’s hat.”

“Mr Brannan.”

“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:

  • TJ designed a mechanical clock in his guest foyer. But, his calculations were off, so he had a hole cut in the floor so the weights had the room necessary to work.
  • He had 6500 books in his library, which he donated to The Library of Congress after the war 1812 when the White House was burned to the ground. after 1812.
  • Instead of a chapel or church, TJ put a library at center of campus UVA
  • The Hemings children were freed in adulthood because Sally made a deal with Jefferson upon agreeing to return to USA from France
  • He was a staunch believer in freedom of religion, and it didn’t matter to him whether his neighbor believed in no god or twenty gods.
  • “The earth belongs to the living” Jefferson quote
  • After TJ’s death, Uriah Levy bought the house in the 1830s. Levy was Jewish, and he was so appreciative of Jefferson’s belief in freedom of religion that he tried to maintain the home in its original form. It is due to Levy and his family’s ownership of the home for 90 years that people are able to view it today with so much of its original design.

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).