By Howard Clemens
Recently, teacher Brynley Martin, who has taught eighth grade English Literature and history at Oak Hill Jr. High School for twelve years, took her students on a tour of Washington, DC. It’s a trip her classes make every year, and one that new students look forward to and former ones always remember fondly. When students travel to Washington D.C., they get to immerse themselves in their fields of study in ways that go far beyond requisite classroom discussion and research.
This particular student tour covers a wide range, from cornerstones like the National Archives (in which the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence are housed) to the many exhibits in the Smithsonian, like the American History and Air and Space Museums. This student travel group also visited Mount Vernon, the plantation of George Washington and landmark of the Revolutionary War. It was important to Martin that the students also take a close look at the Holocaust Museum—an experience many students have described as profound and life-changing.
I recently interviewed Brynley Martin about her most recent class trip from Converse, Indiana to Washington D.C.
Q: What is your official title at Oak Hill Jr. High School?
A: I am an eighth grade English and Literature teacher.
Q: How often do you take your students on tour in Washington D.C.?
A: This will be my seventh year. The tours have been great, and every one of them is different. Every student group is composed of students who are seeing and assimilating these sites for the first time.
Q: Have you toured other cities in the US?
A: No, just Washington D.C. so far.
Q: Washington is a city that’s critical for an understanding of U.S. History. How does the tour of DC tie into the class you teach? What specific parts of American history are covered?
A: We dedicate nine weeks in literature class to the study of the Holocaust. We visit The Holocaust Museum to supplement our studies and to understand the real stories of people who suffered and died in it. This puts a greater emphasis on what we’ve learned. We also study the origins of the U.S., from the Revolutionary up to the Civil War.
Q: The Newseum is a museum dedicated to news and media in American culture. This ties directly into written and spoken language in English, and the ways it’s used to communicate information. Can you comment on student’s reactions to visiting it?
A: On previous trips, we hadn’t had time to really check things out. But the students loved it. There’s so much stuff to see there, something for everyone.
Q: Your class visited the National Archives. What specifically did you want your students to see there?
A: Specifically, the Declaration of Independence, which is sometimes not the easiest thing to see because the lines are so long. It was great for them to be able to see it in detail during this last trip.
Q: How was your trip to the Holocaust Museum?
A: We always request the full tour there. It is very important to our trip, and the kids are moved by it. They get to learn about the Holocaust through more than just books, which always affects them in profound and significant ways.
Q: Describe any post-trip writing or speaking students were required to perform to assimilate their experiences.
A: All students bring a disposable camera on the trip. They use their photos to create a comprehensive and individual project about their own experience. They present this project to the rest of the class, through the lens of their own point of view.
Q: How long have you been doing these tours? What has been your experience with the tour guides and other staff?
A: I think we’ve been traveling for six years now. The tour guides have been awesome! They are very knowledgeable about Washington D.C. and have always worked well with us to solve any problems that might come up. It’s been a great experience, overall.
Diversity of Impressions and Increased Appreciation of History: Something for Every Student Trip
Every student will take something personal away with them from the trip, while also gaining a greater understanding of history and the way language is used to make and change it. Exposing students to places like the Holocaust Museum is instrumental in promoting an understanding of the ethical responsibilities of history. Up close and personal exposure to exhibits housed in the National Archives and the Smithsonian can provide a fresh and vital perspective for learning. All these make for a uniquely visceral experience that serve to broaden and enhance classroom studies in essential and innovative ways. Martin feels that these trips to Washington D.C. positively impact her students, and broaden their appreciation and knowledge of their studies, so she will continue to take groups on tour.
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