Being crammed on a bus for a week with 40 preteens traveling across the country might sound like many people’s worst nightmare. But let me tell you, it is not as bad as it seems. Every year, in many schools across the country, 8th grade classes take a trip to visit the nation’s capital city to see in person all the history that they have been studying for the last year. It is a whirlwind experience as groups are running from one site to another while counting heads to make sure they didn’t lose anyone at the last museum. And our trip was no different.Many of my students hadn’t been on a road trip to another state or some of them hadn’t ever left their own neighborhood, so taking a trip that was thousands of miles away from home was frightening and exhilarating. Sleeping on a bus is never easy and when a kid has all of his/her friends there it makes it even harder. But knowing that we had a busy day ahead I promised to feed cranky kids to the lions at the zoo which was our first stop. Throughout the week we visited many monuments (those pictured) and museums, including the Smithsonian’s Air and Space, American History and Natural History museums. We saw everything from an exhibit on human evolution to Neil Armstrong’s suit from when he walked on the moon. I wish we would have had more time at each place to really soak in the rich history but there was so much to do in so little time! On the last day we visited the Arlington Cemetery. Unfortunately it was raining so our minds were preoccupied with staying dry instead of having time to reflect. However, seeing the changing of the guard was quite memorable.
Finally, the most anticipated stop was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We had spent many months studying World War II and the Holocaust while reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. The students had been studying the stories of survivors as well as visiting our own Jewish Museum in Milwaukee and hearing a survivor speak so they were quite knowledgeable about the subject. The museum is definitely a must-see and is a true place of reflection. One section of the museum that I appreciated the most was the exhibit at the end that discusses issues that are occurring today as in genocide and oppression in other countries. It was a good reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done.
And then it was time to go home. That week was quite possibly the most exhausting week I have ever had but I was too busy to notice. Everything that you could think to do in Washington, D.C. we did and I hope that our students were able to learn something from it. I know that for me traveling is the best way to open your eyes to the big world we live in and so I hope that this trip has started someone else on their road to discovery. There is a lot to see in D.C. and a lot to learn. Good thing I get to do it all again next year!