American history came alive for Harker’s eldest middle school students, who traveled to Washington, D.C., on their class trip in October.
Students on the annual grade 8 sojourn to D.C. quickly realized that it’s one thing to learn about history from text, and quite another to be able to actually journey through historical hot spots. During the trip, they acquired a new appreciation for the city, founded on July 16, 1790, and established by the Constitution of the United States to serve as the nation’s capital.
Accompanied on the trip by Jennifer Gargano, assistant head of school for academic affairs, the group’s D.C. adventure began with a smooth day of travel followed by a visit to Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg.
Even before arriving in Jamestown, the students knew much of the background of the first permanent English settlement in North America, having learned about it in their history class. Yet, while on site, they were able to more fully understand how the early settlers prepared food and made clothes, and the types of living quarters they had.
The students then visited Colonial Williamsburg, an interpretation of a colonial American city. Highlights of their time there included visiting the capitol, the court and the governor’s palace. They also visited a variety of shops such as the wig maker and the apothecary before heading for lunch at the King’s Arm Tavern, a recreation of a restaurant once considered one of the town’s most refined establishments.
After lunch, students participated in an interactive African-American music program held in a slave quarter in Colonial Williamsburg, where they were actively singing and dancing right alongside presenters.
The following day the contingent was greeted by gorgeous autumn weather, the perfect backdrop for their drive to Pamplin Park, one of America’s best-preserved battlefields. The students first went to the Civil War museum on the park grounds where they learned, via an audio guided tour, about the lives of soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Students also participated in military drills and visited the park’s recreated military encampment, experiencing elements of a common soldier’s life.
From there they visited the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. Making this visit more poignant was the fact that there were several Harker students and teachers who had family members who had fought in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
The day was capped off by a lively dinner at Tony Chang’s, filled with fun, delicious food, and interesting information and dialogue. A special treat was having former Harker student Amira Valliani ’06 attend as a guest speaker. Valliani is a former White House intern who currently serves as the special assistant to the deputy chief of staff at the U.S. State Department, where she works in the Office of Secretary of State. She spoke to Harker students about what she does and how the state department functions within the executive branch.
Valliani was joined by Harker classmate Amit Mukherjee ’06, who is a venture capitalist working in Washington, D.C. Mukherjee spoke of his experiences at Harker and how they led to his personal and professional development.
The following day, unusually warm and sunny, turned more solemn as the class visited the Iwo Jima U.S. Marine Corps memorials, Arlington Cemetery, Fords’ Theater and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which contains a record number of archival documents.
From there the group enjoyed a guided tour of the exterior of the White House, including seeing the tent of Concepcion Picciotto, who has been living on the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue in a peace camp in protest of nuclear arms since 1981.
“While we did not see Ms. Picciotto, we did see her delegate. On a lighter note, many of the students were also able to spot a basketball on the lawn of the White House, which they presumed was used by President Obama,” recalled Gargano.
Students later enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the Capitol Hill Club, one of the most popular locations in Washington for lawmakers, government officials and other political figures to socialize and gather. After dinner, students visited the World War II memorial, the FDR memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial, which are beautifully lit in the evenings.
The next day included a memorial visit to Ford’s Theater where students learned about what occurred on the day of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and were able to view the balcony where he was shot.
The group ended their excursion by attending the opening night of “War Horse” at the Kennedy Center. The students were amazed by the realistic puppetry and touched by the story of a boy and his undying loyalty to his horse.
Towards the end of the trip, students visited the capitol building, touring the House of Representatives, the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. Capping off the day – and trip – was a dinner dance cruise, where the class fully bonded as a group. The expedition ended the next day with a visit to Mount Vernon and Udvar Hazy Air and Space Annex before students headed off to the airport for their return flights home.
The grade 8 visit to Washington, D.C., was one of several weeklong middle school class trips held during the fall. Grade 6 went to the Santa Cruz Mountains and grade 7 toured national parks around the Southwest.