A High School Teacher Explores Washington D.C.

Last month my student Jenny and I enjoyed a trip to Washington D.C. Jenny was honored as one of the 50th anniversary presidential scholars. This is the biggest academic honor a high school student can receive.  As part of the program each scholar also gets to recognize her/his most influential teacher and Jenny picked me!  I am so flattered.  The scholars were booked pretty solid the whole time, but the teachers had a bit more autonomy. I appreciated the freedom as I hadn’t ever had the opportunity to explore D.C. Here’s the story of my trip.

Teachers and family members stayed in Wardman Park. Our hotel was less than a half mile from the zoo. The national zoo is part of the Smithsonian museums, meaning it is wonderful, and also free and open to the public. I fell into the immediate habit of taking my breakfast to the zoo, eating with one of the mammalian residents, and then going for a morning jog through the neighborhood.

The first evening we attended the Presidential Scholars medallion ceremony. The ceremony was kept small and simple but held in the stately Mellon Auditorium. US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan delivered the key note address and congratulated each scholar individually. From the third row I enjoyed watching Secretary Duncan's warm dialogue with each student as they posed for pictures.

Representing the state of Missouri, Jenny Yao. Shown here with her distinguished teacher.

The next day, I had the great fortune of having lunch with Laurie Calvert, the Teacher Liaison for the Department of Education.  As a PhD student in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis I enjoyed attending meetings in our department of education buildings.  This first meeting, couldn’t have been with a nicer person. Ms. Calvert and I talked for the better part of two hours about education, policy and teacher leaders. Both teachers at heart, we found an easy rapport swapping classroom stories.

Laura, my best friend from high school is now living in D.C.  Although we haven’t been great about staying in touch, there will always be a special place in my heart for her. This trip gave us a few opportunities to finally get together and catch up.  We walked exploring Wardman Park, DuPont Circle and her new neighborhood. We cooked dinner together at her apartment and looked through a box of old photographs from high school. 

A new photo for the collection...

Tuesday night was another highlight of the trip. On Tuesday, teachers and families took the shuttle bus to the Kennedy Center for the Arts’ Scholars performance. Twenty art scholars are selected each year and represent the brightest artistic talent in their nation’s graduating class. The artists arrived a week before the academic scholars to put Tuesday’s show together.  It was outstanding! There was a harpist, jazz vocalists, an opera singer, tap dancer, a trombonist flute beatboxers, and modern dancers. The students put on an entire 90 minute show on place, identity, and the public school system. Their talents are unparalleled and their message is important and relevant. We all left the show stunned.

Outside the Kennedy Center

On Wednesday, Jenny and I got to spend a little time together for a few meetings on Capitol Hill. I got to hear her side of adventures including meeting with the First Lady! On Wednesday morning Jenny and I met with our own legislators (or their staffs). 

I’ve written about this before, but I enjoy bringing my students to meet with policy makers. I like for young people to see the political process in action and I think it is empowering to feel heard.  Oftentimes, when visiting with students the conversation always turns to education, which can cut across party lines.

Discussing secondary education with Senator Blunt

Jenny and I had lunch at Good Stuff Eatery. Good Stuff is known for their burgers and milkshakes. They didn’t disappoint. If you’re near the hill and like any type of burger (I opted for turkey), creamy handspun milkshakes or fresh hand cut salty fries, you should make a stop. And who doesn't enjoy all of the above? Although, I’ll warn you these two Midwestern young women had a little bit of big city sticker shock.

After lunch, Jenny had to head to the airport. I had one more meeting at the department of education. With a little time beforehand, I stopped by the Botanical Gardens. I love botanical gardens. The Smithsonian gardens is too magnificent to be a stop by place. I could have spent hours there.  However, because all of the Smithsonian museums are free, if you have a few minutes you can have a micro indulge.

In my final education meeting we discussed Results-DrivenAccountability (RDA) for students with disabilities. As an avid reader of education policy, it was fascinating to meet with policy makers to discuss new recommendations and legislation as they were being rolled out. 

Washington D.C. is steeped in history with stately architecture and government buildings, yet it is also lined in trails for jogging and biking. The city is sprinkled with terrific eclectic shops, restaurants and organic groceries. 

I stopped by a closet size Indian store where I bought a gorgeous blue wrap for $12. Throughout the day you hear a multitude of languages and there is an urban expectation to be conversant across languages. I miss this diversity. On my walk to the department of education buildings I observed an extended Muslim family and a group of orthodox Jewish men enjoying picnics at the same park. One evening (back at the zoo)a recreational photographer and  I were watching a sleepy cheetah . A large Latino family skipped up and we laughed together in broken Spanish with their children.  A taxi driver talked to me about Eastern philosophy.  

Each neighborhood I explored had its own flavor. In DuPont Circle I cooled off in the stacks on Kramersbooks.  It’s always a delight to find a real neighborhood bookstore. This one is definitely worth the walk.

While D.C. is underlined by the metro, for a few days this summer, I opted to explore on foot, enjoying warmth not soaked in Midwestern humidity.

Congratulations and best wishes to Jenny! Love to Laura! Thank you to the Commission for the Presidential Scholars Program and our local public schools for this great experience.


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