Curriculum Matters: April 17, 2016

  Middle School
Who doesn’t want to visit Washington DC during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival?  If you live in upstate New York and you have been to DC during the spring, you may be tempted to think that the Middle School goes to DC to enjoy sun and spring flowers.
Although we are a group that knows how to enjoy the outdoors, we have had the opportunity during the cooler winter months to hunker down and study some United States History and our nation’s Capitol has so much to offer.
Arriving in DC in the late afternoon left us with some time to get our bearings.  A walk to the national mall and our first Monument presentation (at the Washington Monument), as well as a view of the White House preceded our visit to Ford’s Theatre, the site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and our play for the evening, 110 In The Shade.  We experienced the urban joy of the play ending and being a member of an audience spilling out onto the sidewalk, laughing and retelling parts from the comedic play.
During the capitol building tour the  
next morning, we were able to impress a very knowledgeable guide with our engagement and thoughtful questions.  Adults in the wider world outside of school often communicate their appreciation when working with our students.
   The rich cultural curricula our students imbibe over many years at Montessori is an essential element of their appreciation of rooms such as the National Statuary Hall.  For example, the many years of watching the Upper Level skit of Rosa Parks during our annual MLK jr Day celebration leading to being members in such skit while in Upper Level and then facilitating the unfolding of the celebration as a Middle Schooler, all prepared students well for honoring her statue in the hall.
The oral argument being debated at the Supreme Court later that morning was one the students had wrestled with under Jim’s guidance back in Ithaca.  Especially after learning more about pending civil cases such as that of Sandra Bland earlier in the year, our students were invested in the outcome of that day in Court.  It dealt with the rights of prisoners injured while in jail.
A different evening activity included playing spies at the International Spy Museum.  Move quickly into a foreign region, infiltrate its governmental records, leave no trace!  One may be able to hang onto a crane high over the city for 30 seconds…but for a whole minute?  Wind blows against the body as palms get sweaty.  It is harder than you may think!
Other museums we visited while in DC included the Holocaust Museum, the Smithsonian Castle, The Newseum and the National Air and Space Museum.  Each museum extended a part of our studies back at school with rich primary documents, artifacts and interactive displays.
Large cities like DC offer a lot for gourmands as well.  We ate Asian fusion the first night and at the Hard Rock Cafe the next.  Although, perhaps the focus there was more on singing and dancing than eating!  Yes! Make those letters with your arms during the Village People’s “YMCA” while finishing that bite.
Middle School groups gave presentations on some of the amazing memorials and monuments within walking distance of the Smithsonian Museums and the National Mall.
In order, we visited:  The Washington Monument, The Jefferson Memorial, The FDR Memorial Park, The MLK jr. Memorial, The Korean War Memorial, The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, The Vietnam Women’s Memorial and The Lincoln Memorial.    In fact, we walked quite a bit…and then walked even more (one day Patrice’s pedometer showed over 7 miles)!
The endless energy of an adolescent is enviable.  Between the walking and presentations, they fit in a pick up game of Ultimate Frisbee by the reflection pool and racing on the balcony at the Kennedy Center.
In addition to being a culturally rich experience, it was clear that the personal connections made on our trip to DC led to more social cohesion and deeper friendships.  As a teacher, that is one aspect of traveling with adolescents I enjoy watching the most:  how the social groupings while on these trips are fluid and change day to day, with classmates finding common interests in each other they did not realize they had.