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This year, our largest group ever – 83 students and 14 chaperones – set off on two buses for a week-long visit to Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area for the 8th grade capstone field trip. The itinerary was full of tours of museums and stops at monuments and memorial sites en route to our nation’s capital like The National Mall, Mount Vernon, The National Cathedral and the Gettysburg Battlefield. Parents were invited to join on this trip, meeting students in D.C. and tagging along for the fun, reflective, and transformative journey. 

The goal of this trip is certainly to tie together important threads of U.S. history, most importantly the history of our founding, the struggle for civil rights and the Civil War. However, an Oaks experience includes some important distinctives common to many of our field trips and makes it unique among the other schools visiting Washington, DC. Each day has a ‘word of the day’ that students define and reflect on throughout the day, students complete an extensive packet of reading and activities related to the itinerary, and have structured time to reflect on the places visited and information learned.

Day 1

After an early morning departure from Indianapolis, students deboarded buses in Shanksville, Pennsylvania for a solemn time of reflection at the Flight 93 National Memorial. While our students are too young to have experienced September 11, 2001 themselves, the gravity of the tragedy and the heroism of passengers on board was made apparent. Inspired by our nation’s resilience (the word of the day), hymns and silly camp songs accompanied beautiful views of fall colors in the Allegheny mountains until the group arrived for lodging in Arlington, VA. A night walk at the Iwo Jima Memorial capped the first day of the trip.

The night walks were very reverent. I liked that they were at night, because the lights lit the monuments up and it was more peaceful than I feel like it would have been during the day.

It was a really good way to end the day, because you went to bed reflecting on all that you had done that day. It almost kept you up, but we were so tired that we fell asleep anyway.

Day 2

The first full day of activities began in true Oaks fashion – with a nature walk to Theodore Roosevelt Island (located in the middle of the Potomac River). The first museum of the day was the Museum of the Bible, where students saw ancient artifacts and multi-sensory presentations that helped them relive the stories from the Bible. This museum embodied how the Christian faith is moored (word of the day) in history and was one of the students’ favorite stops. Next, students explored the National Gallery of Art and performed a “scavenger hunt” as part of their packet work. The last trip of the day was a visit to the Mount Vernon home of President George Washington, who the students spent much time reading about on the bus ride the day before. Another night walk around the Tidal Basin completed the day, with visits to the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

My favorite thing was the Bible Museum because it was very visual, and it was really nice. I really like the way they put it together, and if I ever go back to DC, that’s one place I would go back to.

Day 3

The third morning began with tours of the different buildings housing each branch of government – the White House (executive), the Capitol Building (legislative) and the Supreme Court Building (judicial). A short distance away, the group visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture and steeped themselves in the challenging and celebratory history found in the regal building. The afternoon was spent at the National Cathedral – a tenacious (word of the day) undertaking that took almost a century to build and is filled with many beautiful, breathtaking details. The final night walk of the trip closed the evening’s activities, with stops at the World War II, Vietnam War, Korean War, and Lincoln Memorials.

If there was only one place someone should see, I would say the Washington National Cathedral, because there are only two gothic cathedrals in America and it’s not just a cathedral. There are also elements in there that are more recent, like a statue of George Washington and a wall dedicated to Apollo 11, so it’s like a mix of old and new.

Day 4

The last day of the trip was short in activities, but deep in reflection upon traveling to the site of the bloodiest battle and turning point of the Civil War, Gettysburg National Military Park. Students walked from the visitor’s center to the Monument of the High-Water Mark before finally arriving at the rocky area of Devil’s Den. Here, they spent time reflecting on the week and all they experienced. After picking up lunch, the long return trip home began with many thinking about the legacy (word of the day) left by those who lived before them.

My favorite part of the trip was getting to connect with more people. It helped us build closer relationships that we wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to during the normal school day.

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