We sat down with Sycamore middle school history teacher Tony Young ahead of his annual journey this week with the 8th graders to Washington, DC. He talked about the sites they choose to tour, what the trip instills in our students, and how the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a powerful piece of their trip.
How many years have you taken our students on this trip?
This will be my 14th trip to Washington, D.C. with Sycamore students. I believe Sycamore has been touring Washington, D.C. in eighth grade for well over 20 years.
2. What are some of the places you see each year?
Typically, we will spend some time at the Smithsonian Institute. We visit the memorials, the Capitol, Supreme Court, Arlington National Cemetery, Holocaust Museum, White House, and other palaces. We try to tailor the trip to include student interest and class dynamics.
3. Why is it important to see these particular spots?
When students visit Arlington and view the vast expanse of the headstones, they come to the realization that freedom is not free. When they reflect after the Holocaust Museum, they realize we could only be one generation away from dictatorship. Students get to view important documents of our country to visit the site where MLK delivered one of the most famous speeches in human history.
What are some of your favorite parts of the trip?
I always enjoy watching the students interact with one another. It is always amazing to see Washington, D.C. through the eyes of a student who has never been to our nation’s capital.
What do you hope that students like best?
The parts of the trip that students say they love year in and year out is the ability to be together as a class and bond just a month or so before graduation. I hope students develop an appreciation for the great gift of education that their parents have sacrificed for. I hope they develop an appreciation and understanding of what a unique place America and our republic is. This trip is truly an experience they always remember.
Is there a piece that is more emotional or moving than other parts of the trip?
Honestly you never quite know what will impact a student the most. Some of the most moving parts that I have witnessed has been watching a student visit the grave site of a relative buried in Arlington cemetery. Watching a group of students shed tears in the Hall of Remembrance was particularly moving as they navigate complex feelings and emotions together.
How do think this trip might impact the young students as they mature?
I believe travel is one of the greatest gifts you can give a person. It is one thing to study history, government, and politics. To see it in action and in a tangible way creates an experience that students will reflect upon for the rest of their lives. To watch a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier impacts a student in ways unseen by most. It creates an appreciation for sacrifice and devotion to duty. Many students come away with a sense of appreciation to live in a country where they have choices.