8th Graders Take DC

By Lois Traub West, Director of Civic Engagement

The 8th grade’s spring overnight trip to Washington, D.C., last Thursday and Friday was the culmination of a year’s worth of preparation - in their cultural studies classroom and in the art studio.

A 7:30am departure from TPS got our students to the United States Capitol just in time for their personalized tours by the legislative staffs of Senator Casey’s and Senator Toomey’s offices. Unfortunately, Senator Casey was unable to meet with the students touring with his staff. Senator Toomey spent a few minutes with the other half of the class, who asked questions about his positions on the separation of families at the border and the need for more rigorous background checks on gun purchasers. We are hoping Senator Casey can visit TPS by year’s end.

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Another stop on our DC adventure was the Newseum, a museum focusing on the First Amendment and freedom of speech. Students prepared for this visit by examining photographs in the museum’s Pulitzer Prize–winning photography gallery and by learning about the Berlin Wall in a Monthly Constitutional presented by Mitchell Orenstein, chair of Penn's Russian and Central European Studies Department. A popular gallery at the Newseum was the newscaster’s booth, where students were filmed giving weather, sports, and news reports.

An early evening visit to the Vietnam War Memorial, Korean War Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial set the stage for a monument study that students will pursue later in the year.

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One group had the opportunity to visit the Frederick Douglass Historic Site, and the other took front-row seats on the House floor, while staffers for Congressman Evans and Congresswoman Houlahan answered questions about the House and about issues related to the students’ cultural studies research reports.

A visit to the National Portrait Gallery completed the trip. A study of portraiture in art classes back in the fall set the stage for this visit, which included seeing the portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama.

Asked about the highlights of the trip, 8th graders responded: “Definitely the National Portrait Gallery.” “Bonding with my classmates.” “Riding the ‘train’ in the basement of the Capitol building.” “ Touching a piece of the Berlin Wall.” “Seeing the photography exhibit at the Newseum.” “The Vietnam War Memorial.” “Sitting in the House of Representatives right next to the podium.”