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Educational Tour - Students Experience US History On East Coast
Recent Oakdale Junior High School eighth grader graduates have some fun posing in front of a statue of George Washington on Wall Street in New York City during their East Coast educational trip. - photo by COURTESY OF MICKI DIAS
Lessons learned from United States history books came alive when a contingent of three Oakdale Junior High School teachers and 40 recent eighth grade graduates made a non-school educational trip to the East Coast, covering Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City.
“When you actually walk there and see it, (the students) are so excited,” said OJHS teacher and chaperone Micki Dias. “It’s the real stuff, not a picture in a book. It hits them and they actually see it. It’s fun to watch. They’re putting it all together with what they read in their books… It clicks.”
“It’s a very educational trip,” agreed student Anna Perrone. “In Washington, D.C. we went to so many memorials I probably can’t remember them all… You’re with your friends and the teachers are great.”
Dias, and fellow teachers Danesa Jepson and Anne Whitman, along with the USA Student Travel tour guide and the tour’s bus driver served as chaperones on the trip that took place over the course of a week in late May and early June. Although Dias and Jepson have taken students on the East Coast trip nearly every year since 2003, they said they never get tired of it because it’s a renewed and different experience each time. The two teachers described this year’s group of students as inquisitive, interactive, and fun.
Jepson reported that seeing the kids expressions and their reactions are what makes the trip special for her each time.
“The Vietnam Memorial…seeing the comprehension of meaning is amazing,” she said. “Seeing Ground Zero, even though it’s in the history book, it’s completing the understanding of what it is and what it means.”
While the trip has typically taken place during Spring Break, this year and last year they planned the trip to see President Obama speak in an address on Memorial Day at Arlington Cemetery, which is also a very hot and humid time in the nation’s capital. Last year, the President cancelled his speaking engagement so that group saw Vice President Joe Biden speak. This year, the group was able to see the President and significantly stepped-up security, Dias said, which may have also been due in part to Osama Bin Laden being killed just weeks prior.
“A key part of the trip for me was when we got to see the President speak on Memorial Day at Arlington Cemetery,” Perrone said. “It was burning hot but we still had a good time. It’s very meaningful to all the vets that were there. It was very moving. And getting to see the President speak on such an important day…and we were pretty close (to the President), too.”
While at Arlington, a special surprise came when the Oakdale students were selected to put roses on a number of the graves.
The students spent their first two days of the trip in Washington, D.C., where they also visited Mount Vernon; the Smithsonian’s American History, Natural History, and Air and Space museums; the National Archives; the many famous presidential and war memorials; as well as stops at the White House, and Capitol Hill at the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court.
New on the trip this year was a stop in Philadelphia on the third and fourth days where the group went to National Constitution Center, which contains a museum of how the Constitution shaped the country and life-size bronze statues of the signers of the Constitution.
“They had interactive exhibits there. A couple of the kids were ‘inaugurated’ as President… They could try on robes from court justices… They learned how our democracy has affected other countries,” Dias said. “There was a lot of cool stuff… The kids were able to sign their names in a Constitution book like they were signing the actual document.”
They also visited Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. They also went to the Madcap Theater where they were entertained by two actors with a number of very basic props in a one-hour comedic show with a historical timeline.
“It beat any Schoolhouse Rock video… They had the kids roaring with laughter,” Dias said.
Perrone said that the trip tied into what they learned earlier this year in school. She noted that visiting the Capitol, the White House, and Philadelphia and doing all the activities there and seeing where the Constitution was written, as well as visiting the Smithsonian, all added up to a very patriotic experience.
“I have such a better understanding for our country…what it’s about,” she said.
The trip wrapped up with a jaunt to New York City where they saw a Broadway play, Madame Tussauds wax museum, “30 Rock” in Rockefeller Plaza, the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center site, Wall Street, Central Park, Ellis Island, and more.
Jepson noted that Ellis Island was nice for the kids to see as a couple of them had names they wanted to find.
“One of the highlights for me, and seemed for my friends as well, was the Addams Family Broadway show and the Broadway classroom,” Perrone said.
She said that it was fun and the experience was special because it was their first day in New York. She added that everyone also had a good time learning the play and the dance number in the Broadway Classroom program.
Dias reported that 200 to 250 eighth grade students are typically invited to attend the trip. Eligibility is based on grades, behavior, teacher recommendations, attendance, attitude, supportive parents, and demonstrated responsibility. Then, anywhere from 35 to 50 students will go on the trip, as their families must bear the cost. As for next year, Dias and Jepson reported that the East Coast trip will revert back to the Spring Break schedule.