Monumental undertaking for Explorers


For those Harrison eighth-graders who had never before set foot in the nation’s capital, a recent trip to the heart of Washington, D.C., proved to be an eye-opener.

Justyn Melo was dazzled by “a bunch of monuments and cool things about presidents,” Ashley Troche was impressed by the Washington Monument and Jessica Lopez liked the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

They and other members of the Explorers Club of Washington Middle School participated in a full-day tour of D.C. cultural attractions on Oct. 13.

Principal Michael Landy said the club, an after-school program that “promotes learning outside the traditional classroom setting” and offers periodic grade-specific field trips during the school year.

But those excursions are not casually extended perks by any means.

“We require students to attend after-school sessions, write essays and complete research in order to qualify for attendance so students are, in effect, competing for a spot on the trip,” Landy explained.

On Oct. 13, Landy said, “we took 45 students leaving at 6 a.m. and returning at 10:30 p.m.”

This no-doubt exhausting tour included stops at the Capitol building, the Air and Space Museum, the Supreme Court, Library of Congress, Museum of American History and the various monuments along the National Mall from the WWII Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, he said.

“We have a follow-up meeting,” Landy added, “to discuss what the students learned.”

The Observer posed that question to several of the eighth-graders who went on the trip and got these answers:

Justyn said he now knows that the name of the slain civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, was engraved in front of the Lincoln Memorial where King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, as the culmination of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

And he was surprised to see the image of America’s first president, George Washington, painted on the ceiling of the Capitol dome.

The dominance of the Washington Monument on the D.C. skyline which, reaching a height of 555 feet, is something that Ashley will never forget.

Historical treasurers inside the Smithsonian grabbed Jessica’s attention.

“They had the American flag that flew from Fort McHenry [in Baltimore, Md.] which was where the Star Spangled Banner was written during the War of 1812,” she said. “It had some tears in it.”

And, harking back to the Washington Monument (clearly a focal point for many of the eighth-graders) – although they did not venture up into the interior, for lack of time – Jessica offered an architectural footnote: Construction of the monument was interrupted by the Civil War and when work was resumed, “the color of the bricks was different.”

Classmate Jessica Harris, who had previously visited the nation’s capital with her family, said the single “most impressive thing” for her was the discovery that the Museum of American History exhibits a small section of the Woolworth’s lunch counter where the Greensboro Four – students at North Carolina Agriculture and Technical University – sat in in 1960 to protest separate seating based on color.    

She also hadn’t realized that “the name of the statue at the top of the Capital dome [built sometime after the Civil War] is ‘Freedom,’ as representing freedom from Britain.”

Later this year, Landy said that Washington School will send its seventh-grader Explorers to Boston, where the country’s movement to separate from its mother country had its origins.


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