Typically, the eighth grade trip to Washington D.C. is scheduled to take place during spring break, but this year organizers decided to try something different.
“We wanted to give students the opportunity to see the President speak live at Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day,” said World History teacher Micki Dias.
Unfortunately, Dias added, President Obama went to Chicago instead during that time; however, Vice President Joe Biden spoke in his place at Arlington.
“The opportunity for the west coast to see a President or Vice President speak is rare,” she noted.
While at Arlington National Cemetery, along with hearing and seeing the Vice President, students also watched a changing of the guard and viewed Arlington House and JFK’s memorial called the Eternal Flame. While in D.C., they also saw the “Rolling Thunder,” originally organized by a small group of Vietnam veterans that has grown to include more than 250,000 motorcycles rumbling through the nation’s capital in parade on Memorial Day. Dias said they ride to bring awareness to the plight of the MIAs and POWs and so they aren’t forgotten.
“It’s a big thing to honor all the veterans,” Dias said. “The kids seeing that and then going to the Vietnam Wall — that made a pretty big impact on the kids… Seeing the vets touch the wall and the names was emotional. It was good exposure for (the kids).”
Dias acknowledged that while visiting during the summertime, the heat and humidity was a challenge and that she and her fellow teacher chaperones, Anne Whitman, Danesa Jepson, and June Botto, urged their charges to drink plenty of fluids. She said that they will do the D.C. tour to encompass Memorial Day again next year, but after that they will revert back to going in the springtime.
The trip to the nation’s capital provides students with an opportunity to learn first hand about American government and its rich history. They learn about the history and philosophy of the U.S. government, how it works, the influence of political figures, and more. They also toured several museums and memorials.
They had a ‘photo opp’ at the White House, toured the Museum of American History, the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and the Holocaust Museum. At the Holocaust Museum, a survivor was there signing books and talked to the students.
Other stops included visiting numerous memorials such as the Lincoln, WWII, U.S. Marine Corps (Iwo Jima Statue), Vietnam Veterans, Korean Veterans, the Washington Monument, as well as visits to Capitol Hill, Ford’s Theatre, and Mount Vernon.
They also took part in a Richmond battlefield tour and watched a Civil War soldier program. Dias reported that the students saw a man play several different instruments of the era, which included the Jaw Harp (also known as a Jew’s Harp), flute, drums, and bugle. She added that the students all bought Jaw Harps and have been driving their parents crazy with playing them since they’ve been home.
Dias said they also enjoyed a reenactment of the Second Virginia Convention at St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech. The students were also able to interact with the actors who were in full character and ask them questions.
They also enjoyed an 1862 Confederate Richmond Dinner at St. John’s Church Parrish House where they dined on fried chicken, stewed tomatoes, applesauce, and sweet tea. Then afterward they square danced to live music from the time period. Dias said that the students all “got into it” and had fun.
She added that the students also greatly enjoyed the Edgar Allen Poe Museum and the Haunts of Richmond Ghost Tour. They also thought the Madame Tussauds wax museum tour was fun because they were able to pose next to and take pictures with the famous wax figures, as well as sit at a replica of the Presidential desk.
Dias, who has organized the D.C. trip for several years, has previously stated that seeing the monuments and historical places in person make a big impact on the students in a way that textbooks or picture postcards can’t. It’s a way for students to see history come alive.
In prior years, trips to the D.C. area have also included jaunts to New York City and Boston.