Middle school students from the St. John School on Gifft Hill got a first hand look at government at work during a field trip to Washington, D.C.
One of the trip highlights, according to head of school and trip chaperone Scott Crawford, was a visit to Capitol Hill, where students met with V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen, toured the Capitol Building, and watched debate on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Actually, debate is a bit misleading, joked Crawford. The whole time our students were in the House Chamber, the floor was essentially empty with just one Congressman speaking to an empty room to get his comments on record. The fact that this happens is a lesson in and of itself about politics.
Monuments and Memorials
Other highlights included a walking tour of the citys monuments and memorials. Students saw Arlington National Cemetery, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Vietnam War Memorial, among other sites of interest.
I was sad looking at all those names, said 8th grader Chancie Montgomery of her experience at the Vietnam War Memorial, where the names of each of the nearly 60,000 soldiers killed in the conflict are carved into a wall.
The Wall is always emotional because the war is still very much within the living memory of our nation, said Crawford. I tell the students that whenever they are there, they are sharing the space with other visitors who have lost family members or friends in the war and have come to pay their respects.
This point was proven by Chancie, who made a rubbing of a family members name she located on the wall.
Rounding out the D.C. experience were trips to the Smithsonian Museums on the National Mall.
Most of the students chose to go to the Natural History Museum to see the Hope Diamond and dinosaur bones, said Crawford, but a few went to the National Gallery to look at the art, which features works by Monet, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, and almost any other major artist one can name.
Eighth grader Tyler Gray went with chaperone and history teacher Chris Reams to the American History Museum where a special exhibit was honoring the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education, which led to the desegregation of schools across America in the 1950s.
It was cool listening to Mr. Chriss stories in the museum, said Tyler. That guy can talk.
Besides visiting Washington, students also traveled to West Virginias New River Gorge. The gorge is in the heart of Appalachias coal country and is also a major destination for outdoor sports, according to Crawford, who refers to the destination as an ideal spot to mix learning with fun.
Highlights in the gorge included a descent into a coal mine, led by a retired miner, and a whitewater rafting trip on the New River. The rafting trip was a favorite experience for 8th grade daredevil Cecy Blanco, who claims it was awesome! and considers herself lucky because she got to sit in front through the Class 4 and 5 rapids, the biggest rapids on the river!
As if that wasnt enough, the trip also included a hike along the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, a tour of the University of Virginias campus led by chaperone and UVA graduate Chris Reams, and some wild roller coaster rides at Busch Gardens.
Students camped during most of the nine day trip, cooking their own meals, building their own fires, and sleeping in tents. The camping keeps costs down, but also adds a fun, independent element to the trip, said Crawford. The students become more self-reliant, and, you cant beat ending every day with smores around a campfire.
Now that the trip is over, students will spend the rest of the year in their field trip class writing about their experiences. Each student had a topic to research during the trip, which will be turned into an article and published in the schools travel journal, The Talking Drum, along with photos and a day-by-day documentary of the trip experience.