History came alive for 34 McCarroll Middle School eighth graders – and their 19 chaperones – during a four-day trip to Washington, D.C., last week.
From Monday through Thursday, the group participated in a full slate of activities, sun up to sun down, as facilitated by Junior Tours of New Jersey and their guide, Joe.
“We were up at 7 a.m. every morning, and we wouldn’t get back to the hotel until around 10 p.m., lights out at 11,” said Brandi Edgar, seventh-grade math teacher. “It was very tiring but so rewarding. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, very good at what he does. That only enhanced our experience.”
The crew of 53 from Decatur arrived at Dulles International Airport, just after 11 a.m. Monday. After lunch, the group visited Arlington National Cemetery to see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the gravesites of the Kennedy brothers and the Challenger Space Expedition crew.
“Arlington National Cemetery was my favorite,” said Coy Johnson, who recently completed his eighth grade year. “When you walk in, it’s so humbling to see the gravesites of all the men and women who died for you. It makes you realize freedom isn’t free.”
Afterward, the group visited the Iwo Jima Marine Corps, Air Force and 9/11 Pentagon memorials before dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe.
The group squeezed in a tour of the World War II and Jefferson memorials before calling it a night.
“The kids were shocked at how big some of the things were,” Edgar said. “We felt very, very small up against some of those buildings.”
After breakfast the next morning, the day began with a tour of the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court and Library of Congress.
“They are beautiful, beautiful buildings filled with tons of beautiful artwork,” Edgar said. “Absolutely breathtaking, especially the Library of Congress. One of the kids – Gunnar Parker – was fascinated with the ceiling, the way it arched. It was so neat, the comments the kids would make.”
Between the next two meals of the day, the group spent the entire afternoon exploring Mount Vernon and visited the Lincoln, Vietnam and Korean War memorials – even finding a local connection – before heading back to the hotel.
“One of our students, Cade Lamirand, his mother, Connie, has an uncle that’s on the Vietnam Memorial,” Edgar said. “Although heartbreaking, it was very neat to find that tie.”
Wednesday’s activities began with a photo stop at the White House and visit to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
After lunch, the group visited Ford’s Theater and the Peterson House.
“To be in the very same place where Lincoln got shot and see the bed he died on – nothing can replace that,” Johnson said. “It was so neat.”
The group also rode down Embassy Row, past the Washington National Cathedral, a favorite for another member of the group.
“All of the stained glass, it’s beautiful,” Hope Fuller said. “And Helen Keller and her teacher are buried there.”
They also visited the MLK Memorial before spending the evening at a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets.
Before boarding the plane and heading home Thursday, the group squeezed in a trip to the Smithsonian Institute – visiting the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American History and the National Art Gallery – and the Holocaust Museum.
“It was exhausting, a ton of walking, but it was worth it because you get to see a lot of the interesting history,” Johnson said. “It was so neat to be able see what we’d been reading about all our years of school. Going up there was a true learning experience. We have all this previous knowledge of so much stuff, but seeing it in person really enhances that. Nothing compares.”
Edgar, who volunteered to organize the trip, said she finds so many benefits in these kinds of trips.
“Trips like this brings history to life,” she said. “Everything they’ve learned about, they’re able to see in person. I went as an eighth grader at Keller Middle School, and it is one of my favorite memories of that year. I loved it.”
And it’s a memory she hopes to make available to, eventually, all students.
“Our goal is to be able to take the whole eighth grade,” Edgar said. “This year, they paid for the trip themselves. But hopefully fundraisers such as the Chisholm Trail Steak Challenge will be profitable to help kids that are not able to pay the cost. It’s such an invaluable opportunity.”
For a more detailed look at the group’s trip, follow their Twitter account @McCarrollDCtrip or visit their blog, decaturdc.posterous.com.