ABC-Stewart School fourth- through sixth-grade students and some of their parents, 47 of us in all, went to Washington, D.C., to see the sights and symbols that are American history.
Our first stop was the National Archives, an impressive building that holds the documents that are the foundation of our system of government: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Students had been learning about American history all year and recently had performed the annual school play, which this year was a musical comedy “13 Colonies.” One of the songs in the musical was “Boogie with the Bill of Rights.” So actually seeing the famous documents was the perfect connection to
While this was an educational trip, it was also entertaining. We all felt like tourists as we marveled at the beauty of the monuments and buildings in our nation’s capital. Our tour guide, Bob Gray, spoke passionately about the symbolism present on the national mall.
We looked to our right and saw the towering Washington Monument, which was recently reopened after being damaged in an earthquake several years ago. It is a lasting symbol of our young nation in the 1700s as we gained independence from England. The monument is a tribute to our first president George Washington.
We looked to our left and saw the majestic Lincoln Memorial, a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, who guided the country through the Civil War in the 1800s and kept the country united. We stood in the middle of the World War II Memorial, which honors our brave servicemen and women who saved us and the rest of the world from aggression. World War II was the most significant event of the 1900s.
Our tour guide did an excellent job describing the various wars in which we have been involved and brought meaning to our visit to the Vietnam and Korean War memorials. We more clearly understood why the names of all the servicemen and women who lost their lives or who are still missing are etched into the Vietnam Memorial. We looked at the statues of soldiers in the Korean War Memorial who are depicted in a rice paddy field as they cautiously moved uphill and understood that 38,000 people lost their lives fighting along the 38th Parallel in Korea.
The words inscribed on the memorial, “Freedom is not free,” took on a new meaning as we understood the sacrifices that made so we could live in a free country.
We traveled farther to see the newest memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., an impressive tribute to one of our country’s greatest leaders. Gray told our students of the symbolism of where the memorial is located. King faces the Thomas Jefferson Memorial as he looks to the major writer of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, which gives freedom to all men. Covering his back is the Lincoln Memorial with Abraham Lincoln as the president who wrote the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves in his time.
We saw other impressive memorials such as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial which detailed the four-term president’s efforts to get us out of a deep depression, get our country working again and fighting in World War II as part of a global effort to resist aggression from others. We saw the Iwo Jima Memorial, which depicts Marines placing the American flag on an island in the Pacific in World War II.
These historic sites were only part of our educational journey, as we were able to visit Ford’s Theatre, where our 16th president was shot. We finished our day at Mount Vernon, home of our first president, George Washington.
We visited Arlington National Cemetery and saw the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Kennedy burial sites, and the rows and rows of tombstones where those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country have their final resting place.
We were also able to take a guided tour of the Capitol and meet with our two U.S. senators. Both Sen. Dan Coats and Sen. Joe Donnelly answered questions from the students, had a photo session with us and gave autographs. We appreciated these two very busy senators for taking time out of their day to help us understand what they do on behalf of Hoosiers each day in the Senate.
Our final visit was to take a tour of the White House. What an impressive home. Each room is filled with history, and guides were placed in every room to tell us of some of the important events that occurred there.
This was our plan: Teach history in the classroom, make it come alive within the school by acting out an important event (this year it was a simulation of immigrants going through Ellis Island), incorporate our theme into our annual school play (“13 Colonies”) and then actually visit Washington and see in person the places that we had been studying. These four days in Washington helped to firmly establish American history in the minds of our ABC-Stewart students and, hopefully, will inspire them throughout their lives.
Mike Gorday is the director at ABC-Stewart School.