It seems like school trips to our nation’s capital have been a part of my life since the day I was born. As a high school teacher, my dad took his senior class on a day trip to the Capitol each year. As a youngster, I would accompany my parents on these trips.
Here I am, 25 years later, taking my seniors to DC. Things have really changed over the years. The days when beat-boxers sat in the Mall thumping on five gallon buckets and kicking shopping carts are long gone. Now, security has gone through the roof, and unless you want to spend most of your day standing in long lines, you need to make reservations well ahead of time for your trip.
I’ve considered naming it a memory and going elsewhere for senior trips. That being said, every other year I still find myself in DC with a group of students. Each trip involves a reservoir of research, planning, and phone calls. Every school will want different things from a trip to the Capitol, and you may find my approach unhelpful. On the other hand, if I am able to save you some planning on your next trip to DC, praise the Lord!
Transportation: Driving a vehicle around The Mall and trying to park that vehicle will turn a righteous man into a heathen. I look for a cheap hotel outside of the city that is within walking distance to a metro station. I generally look for a hotel near the Huntington Metro Station. We ride the metro into the city each morning. Riding the metro can be pricy, but…
a. One day “smartrip” pass (unlimited miles) – $14.40 + $2.00 for purchasing the card
b. Reload the pass each day with unlimited miles – $14.50 (flexible, speedy, expensive)
c. A cheaper route is to calculate the distance that you will ride the metro and only load your card with that distance. (Cheaper, less flexible, more planning.)
The early bird gets the worm: I don’t view this trip as a vacation; this is a school trip. I drag the students out of bed at 6:30 some mornings. Arlington Cemetery opens its gates at 8:00. You will find us sitting at the gate at 8:00. This affords you a lonely walk up through the cemetery to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Enjoy a quiet and non-crowded “changing of the guard” ritual at 8:30 and still be near the front of the line at the Holocaust Museum or Bureau of Engraving. I normally have someone in the Holocaust Museum line while the students are at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The students can still easily be at Holocaust Museum when it opens at 10:00.
The Air and Space Museum is hardly worth its salt: The exhibits have barely changed since I was a toddler and it is super crowded. Udvar Hazy affords a similar experience, isn’t crowded, and includes more landmark aircraft (including a once active space shuttle).
Udvar Hazy is less “hands on” than Air and Space. We always catch Udvar Hazy on our way home.The only cost at Udvar Hazy is $15 to park your vehicle. You can also watch an Imax film there if you’d like.
Mt. Vernon and George Washington’s grave are nearby for $7 a student. It’s a shame to miss that while you are so close.
Memorial Stroll: The memorials are much nicer after dark. To avoid school groups, you will need to wait till at least 9:30 P.M. for your memorial hike.
Guns to Plowshares Memorial: This memorial used to be located at a prominent place in D.C. It is one of the only memorials that reflect Anabaptist values. A number of years ago it disappeared. I was able to re-locate it using google earth. Ironically it now wastes away near the D.C. sewage plant. This year I asked a police man if he knew of its whereabouts. In spite of the fact that he currently stood ¾ of a mile from its location, he assured me that no such memorial existed in the surrounding area. As we stood around taking pictures of the memorial, local bus drivers were returning their buses to be parked in the cul-de-sac. Many of them cheered and gave us the thumbs up signal for viewing the rusty contraption. You can now find the memorial here.
Before and after:
National Cathedral: I always take the students to an ethnic restaurant in Georgetown for one meal and we visit the National Cathedral afterwards. Sometimes we join the boys choir for evensong, but that must be reserved ahead of time and will cost $50 for your group. This year we ate at Mai Thai. Parking in Georgetown is formidable, but you can park for free down by the river. Georgetown can also have a negative party atmosphere.
Places best reserved six months ahead of time: Fords Theater (If you want to see any of the shows), Bureau of Printing and Engraving (if your party is greater than six), Holocaust Museum, White House Tour (Reserve through your local representative; you will need to submit Social Security numbers for everyone in your party; all visitors over 18 MUST show photo ID or they will NOT be entering the White House).
Other places we visit each year: Capitol Building Tour (free/ reserve through Representative’s office), Library of Congress (walk-up/ free, self-guided tour), Botanical Garden (Free), Air and Space Museum (free/crowded)
My little secret: If you can figure out where it is, maybe I’ll bump into you there sometime. 🙂
Any tips and advice pertaining to a Capital visit that you may have harvested over the years will be soaked up like a sponge if sent to [email protected]!
CONTRIBUTOR: Kyle Lehman