From 2010-2016 I helped to organize and led an annual trip to Washington DC. This trip is one of the moments our students look forward to most in their time as students at ASFM. Almost every student in the eighth grade attends and it is a joy to watch students come together as a more integrated community, supporting each other, deepening existing friendships, and establishing new ones, all while immersed in a profoundly enriching learning experience.
It’s hard the understate the amount of work that goes into a trip like this. The school only sends nine teachers to watch over 150 students. This may seem like a high student to teacher ratio, but with students who are as mature and well behaved as the young adults at ASFM, this is a reasonable amount of adult supervision. Indeed, our tour guides, bus drivers, and the hotel staff often gives our students outstanding praise for their behavior.
But even with such well behaved students, the small number of adult chaperones creates an immense amount of work for each chaperone, and we are very proud of what we accomplish. In order to bring minors from Mexico to the US we need to generate notarized permission forms for each student. This means that in addition to providing all manner of details to parents and students and monitoring payments and permissions for the school, we also need to collect, organize, and submit a large amount of paperwork to the Mexican government.
Once the trip is underway, our itinerary is packed. We generally meet at the airport before dawn and split into our preset groups, dividing ourselves into three planes and crossing our fingers that we will make all of our connections. More than once a group has missed a flight and we have had to improvise in order to coordinate a new flight plan with the airlines, but we always manage to work it out.
One we are in Washington, we work hard to leave no stone unturned. Over the course of five days we visit all of the presidential monuments and war monuments, the Capitol, Arlington Cemetery, the Newseum, The Holocaust Museum, The Spy Museum, and as many Smithsonian museums as we are able. Basically, us teachers become shepherds for a week, herding our large group of students from one location to the next, constantly counting and recounting, monitoring our watches and guiding our groups towards making the most of their experience.
Upon returning from Washington the eighth grade students always seem more unified as a generation and more connected with their teachers. Students often report that the friendships they create during their Washington experience end up lasting all through high school and beyond. We try to keep the magic going as we close out the year with a project related to the trip. Students are asked to select something that could be a focus for a monument or memorial that isn’t in Washington already. Students then use the design thinking process to design their new addition to the D.C cityscape.
The eighth grade Washington trip has been both one of the most exhausting and the most fulfilling of my endeavors here at ASFM. Through this trip I have learned many important lessons on teaching and created many joyful memories that I’m sure will last a lifetime.