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Student Travel Company Tour of Washington, D.C. a Unique Learning Experience

Students pose in front of the FDR Memorial.

by Howard Clemens

Jim Roche, Assistant Principal at St. Eugene Catholic School in Point Fox, WI, recently took his students on a student tour of Washington, DC. The student trip was designed to encompass a wealth of cultural and spiritual landmarks, from the Smithsonian to the famous National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Specifically, Roche wanted to give the students a broader picture of American history. He also wanted to encourage classroom spirit and camaraderie.

As it turned out, the expedition was an enlightening and enriching experience for the students, and a great success. The backdrop of Washington D.C., with its exciting city landscape, added to the students’ overall enjoyment, and helped to generate curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. When I had the chance to interview Jim, he went over some notable details of the trip. He also talked about how he felt student travel in general had been beneficial to his classes.

Q. What is your position at St. Eugene School?

A. I am the Assistant Principal

Q.  When you put this trip together, what was your vision?

A. We offered the expedition as an official 8th grade class trip. We’ve been going to Washington D.C. for at least 7 or 8 years, and I think the last 5 or so have been with the travel group we’re using now. Our purpose is twofold: to build unity in the class and to experience the history of our nation.

Q.  Your group visited many of the major sites, such as the U.S. Capitol, the MLK Memorial, the White House, and the National Archives. How do these sites tie in with your studies?

A. The 8th grader studies U.S. History, so the tie-in is perfect. Prior to the trip, the students are asked to research a specific monument or venue and share it with the class. The visit becomes an integral part of their study of U.S. government, as well.

Q.  You chose to bring your group to the Holocaust Museum.  What were students’ reactions to visiting this site?

A. Each student has a different reaction. For some, it is a very intense experience, almost overwhelming. For others, it opens their eyes to the Holocaust in ways they’ve never contemplated before. It’s a must-see for us.

Students have a pizza party when they stop for a break while touring Washington D.C.

Q. Which Smithsonian museums did you visit, and why?

A. Each year we go to the Air & Space Museum. The 8th grade studies Astronomy in the spring, so it helps bring to life their study of the Space Program in particular. We also visit the Natural History Museum, and one other museum that the students get to choose.

Q. As a Catholic school group, it was probably very important to you to bring the children to a mass in Washington D.C. Why did you choose Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception? Can you describe the mass and students’ reaction to having a mass there, as opposed to in their own hometown?

A. In prior years, we’d always gone to the Basilica. It’s obviously much different than our own parish. The students attend Mass in the lower level chapel, which provides a unique liturgical experience for them. The whole atmosphere is reverent and rewarding.

Q.  Describe your visit to the Bureau of Engraving. How did it tie in with educational objectives? What were some of the students’ reactions?

A. The Bureau of Engraving has become a student favorite. It doesn’t really tie in to our curriculum directly. It has more to do with their fascination with the U.S. Mint, and seeing all that money in front of them. I think it’s more about the fun than our curriculum, which is fine with me.

Q. Your student group used the subway as a form of transportation.  How did this impact your trip’s cost?

A. We used the Metro because our class size was so small. Normally, we use a chartered bus and stay 20 or so miles outside the city. It worked out fine this year and allowed us an affordable option. If our travel group had not offered the Metro option, we probably could not have afforded the trip, so I’m grateful they were willing to work with us to find a solution.

Q.  Once they returned to WI and St. Eugene School, were students required to do any post-trip writing or oral presentations?

A. Yes, they prepare scrapbooks and presentations, and write about their experiences. But I think the most important aspect is the memories they have of the trip when they go off to high school, and on their separate ways.

Q. Overall, how would you describe your tour guide and the experience of traveling?

A. They were wonderful to work with. The tour guides have been knowledgeable, friendly, and accommodating to our students’ needs. They’re a big reason why we return each year.

Student travel Offers Opportunities to Grow

The great thing about student travel expeditions is that they can be tailored to fit the interests and focuses of any curriculum. Catholic schools, liberal arts schools, and more traditional schools are all able to work with groups to find or create programs that are right for them. There are no limits to the creative educational possibilities the right trip can provide. Student travel packages have something for everyone, and reflect the diversity and value classroom travel can bring to the school experience.

Request a quote for a student trip to Washington D.C. today.

Washington D.C.: The Capitol Tour and Tickets to Congressional Sessions

Tips on Obtaining Admission for Student Travel Groups

The following interview was conducted with Vicki Heebner, Reservations Manager for Educational Travel Consultants. She gives some quick and easy tips for student travel trips headed to Washington D.C. Heebner explains two different processes of obtaining tickets for a Capitol Tour. Student groups may also receive Gallery tickets to view the Congress or Senate when in session, or just take a tour of the Gallery itself.

Heebner works closely with another student travel specialist, Joanne Wycoff. Heebner says, “Once a group is booked, I review the itinerary and make reservations for the travel groups. I am in charge of Capitol Tours and tickets to Congressional sessions.”

How to Book a Capitol Tour for a Student Travel Group

In order to book a student travel group’s Capitol Tour, a specific procedure must be followed. “We find the senator or congressman of the district that the school group comes from. Often a school will request a certain senator or congressman,” says Heebner. She uses a surefire method of booking the tour, “I visit the senator or congressman’s website and determine what type of application is needed for a student travel group visiting the Washington D.C. area. It’s usually either an online request or a form that can be printed and faxed. I fill out the form and send it in, and follow it with a phone call.” Requests must be submitted early, and there must be full cooperation from the senator or congressman’s office. “If it’s a senator that cares about his constituents, their children, and getting re-elected the tour will be set up in an organized and timely manner,” said Heebner.


Booking the Capitol Tour in Washington D.C. is Still not Easy

Even with this type of follow-up, the requests for a Capitol Tour can sometimes be lost or misplaced. Heebner says that most representatives’ offices are run by interns that serve a six-month term. So, she always follows the initial contact and confirmation with another phone call, within a time frame closer to the student travel trip to Washington D.C. Usually, a different intern answers the telephone, and sometimes they have to dig up the paperwork, or Heebner has even been asked to go through the process again.

In the Washington D.C. student travel market, there are plenty of great attractions that are low or no cost. Heebner says that the Capitol Tour is one of those unique experiences every American must want to have – to witness our representative democracy in action. Booking the Capitol Tour is made easier through pre-planning and great execution by a student travel expert.

Large Groups on Capitol Tour in Washington D.C.

Heebner did mention that sometimes large groups on Capitol Tour can require even more advance planning. For example, her company, Educational Travel Consultants, scheduled a Capitol Tour with 230 student travel participants. “They require one intern for every 15 students. When groups are this big, planning ahead is essential. Requests for the tour must be in as quickly as possible. Even if the large student travel group is not scheduled for the Capitol Tour, they may still receive passes to the gallery so they can sit in on a Congressional or Senatorial session.

What if Groups Do Not Book the Capitol Tour On Time?
The only alternative to an advance booking for a Capitol Tour through a congressman or senator’s office is not a good one, especially for student travel groups with limited time on their itinerary. Tickets are distributed on a first come first served basis at the Capitol, one per person. During the busy student travel months of spring student groups must stand in line — and lines are long. The ticket window is open from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Even though student travel groups line up, there is no guarantee they will obtain admission. It’s better to work with an educational travel partner to book the Capitol Tour in advance rather than waste valuable touring time standing in the long times.

Gallery Passes: Another Alternative to the Capitol Tour

Student travel groups who cannot obtain Capitol Tour tickets may still have a chance to see a live session by obtaining Gallery passes. Seeing the representatives live is dependent upon whether the Senate or House is session. Groups can still obtain gallery passes but they are just touring the Capitol Gallery. The Senate Gallery is located at the north side of the Capitol and the House of Representatives at the south side of the Capitol. Gallery passes are much easier to obtain than Capitol Tour passes and will still give student groups a view of the chambers that serve as the heart of our democratic government.

Docent Tour of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

One of the most treasured buildings in Washington D.C. is the Library of Congress. Located on Capitol Hill and comprised of three buildings as well as an award winning website, it is “the largest library in the world.” Opened in 1800 The Library of Congress is the collective intellect of the Native America, Colonial America, and the present day United States as well as world influences upon its inhabitants. This historical building is a reminder of the power of freedom of speech and should be on every student travel itinerary.

Library of Congress to be Connected to the Capitol
Grounded in history, The Library of Congress still stays abreast of the times, by bringing a new interactive exhibit and experience for visitors. Soon there will be a passageway between the Library of Congress and The Capitol. The Library of Congress is connected to the Capitol in more then one way. It serves as the research branch of the legislature.

There are several individual library collections within the Library of Congress worth touring. A docent is provided by the LOC to make certain student travel groups have an excellent experience and receive knowledgeable answers to their questions.

Thomas Jefferson’s Library
Perhaps the most influential donor, one who helped create the library by giving 6,487 volumes for its creation, was Thomas Jefferson. Similar to Benjamin Franklin, who helped initiate the Free Library of Philadelphia, Jefferson believed in the power of books to transform the individual and society. His library was divided into three categories that were part of the organization of the British library during his day: memory, reason, and imagination. The Library of Congress carefully preserves his cataloguing system for the exhibition. The Jefferson collection highlights his fascination for subjects such as philosophy, religion, building and architecture. Thomas Jefferson’s library also reveals some books he received from a lifelong friend, John Quincy Adams.

Lesson Plans and Classroom Materials from the Library of Congress

For the teacher who wants to prepare students for a visit to The Library of Congress, there are some excellent materials for use, available online at http://www.loc.gov/teachers. There are learning modules on American photography archives, history, and all types of artistic works such as performing arts, creative arts, crafts, and music. Although some may only think of the Library of Congress as a repository of books, it is really a place for all types of records: audio, video, photography, original art, and more. The Library of Congress is a great way to delve into the culture of the United States, and celebrate its diversity.

Exploring the Early Americas

Exhibitions at the Library of Congress also include a thorough exploration of pre and post colonial and Early American maps and documents as well as information and artifacts on first contact between Europeans and Native Americans.

Creating the United States

Creating the United States is another popular exhibit for student travelers. Our founding fathers are celebrated by revealing many original writings and documents that pre-dated the official Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.

The preservation and display of important documents is essential. The Library of Congress is also a repository for catalogued artistic production in the United States. The professional staff and docents at the Library of Congress are well versed in their discipline, and eager to inform and educate student travel groups.

For assistance crafting a custom itinerary for your student travel group that includes a trip to the Library of Congress, email info@educationaltravelconsultants.com and a member of our staff will reply to you quickly.

Evening Entertainment for Student Travel Groups on Tour in Washington D.C.

It’s easy to find fun and educational things to do with student groups in the evenings in Washington D.C. Student travel is enhanced by a careful selection of entertainment venues. My company, Educational Travel Consultants, extends the entertainment choices beyond the perimeters of Washington D.C. There are some great entertainment opportunities for student tour groups inside Washington D.C. and just an hour outside of Washington D.C.

Twilight Tattoo on the White House Ellipse
Student travelers are thrilled to spend an evening outdoors during the spring to enjoy the pageantry of a Twilight Tattoo on the White House Ellipse. Twilight Tatoos highlight the strong and enduring history of the U.S. Military with performance, pageantry, and display of arms. The Twilight Tattoo is a way to learn about the longstanding traditions of morale, leadership, and a community of caring. At the Tattoo, student travel groups can celebrate military tradition. It features The Old Guard, Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, and the ceremonial unit, a Fife and Drum Corps as well as a performance by the U.S. Army Drill Team; The U.S. Army Band Blues jazz ensemble, vocalists from The United States Army Chorus and The U.S. Army Chorale.

U.S. Naval Band Performance
Formed in 1925, the U.S. Naval Band makes its home in the “Sail Loft” of the historic Washington Navy Yard, the oldest naval establishment in the United States. Music has provided relaxation and camaraderie for enlisted men and officers in the U.S. Navy since post-revolutionary times and continues to inspire patriotism and respect for military tradition in student travel groups today. The U.S Naval Band are professional musicians and they are in Washington D.C. to perform around the holidays and special events of military significance. Plan a student travel tour in sync with a U.S. Naval Band performance in Washington D.C.

U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Team
Housed in the historic marine barracks in Washington D.C., the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill team is hand picked from the marines for their ability to carry out gun drills without commands. This amazing demonstration is performed throughout the summer months at the intersection of 8th and I. Student travel groups particularly enjoy this display of unspoken communication, discipline and coordination. Once again, this evening activity allows student tour groups to spend some time outdoors during pleasant weather. For a deeper understanding of the tradition of the U.S. Marines and the Silent Drill team, students may prepare for their tour by visiting http://www.marines.com/page/usmc.jsp?pageId=/page/Detail-XML-Conversion.jsp?pageName=Silent-Drill&flashRedirect=true.

Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center
This student travel tour favorite is a play that has been running continuously since 1987. The audience participation ‘whodunit’ style production makes detectives out of everyone. This is a great active learning experience for the student traveler in Washington D.C. Held in the Theater Lab of Kennedy Center, the audience is surrounding the stage and can easily interact with actors in this theater in the round. Student tour groups look forward to the Shear Madness performance in Washington D.C. because it is contemporary, funny, engaging, and alive with possibilities. Shear Madness is also performed in Boston. When student tour groups attend a Shear Madness performance, they must solve the crime in collusion with the rest of the audience and the ending is always a surprise for all.

Broadway Style Musical Dinner Theater Shows
For the student travel tour that may not make it to Toronto or New York City – never fear, a taste of off Broadway is still here. Off Broadway professional dinner theaters such as Toby’s and Lazy Susan are located in or near the Washington D.C. metro area. Off Broadway dinner theater is the perfect venue for a student travel tour in search of some entertainment. Students may see some well known Broadway musicals such as “A Chorus Line,” “The Sound of Music”, “Lend Me a Tenor,” and many more famous musicals too numerous to list here.

Medieval Times Dinner Theater
Student tour groups love to visit Maryland’s Medieval Times Castle, just outside of Washington D.C. in Hanover, Maryland. Even though Maryland was still a wilderness during medieval times – it doesn’t matter. The Maryland Castle is inside the Arundel Mills Mall, and can seat 1,000 people. Student tour groups interested in the full medieval experience – including live jousting tournaments on horses plus a great dinner feast — will be excited by a visit to the castle and the surrounding mall. Student travel groups are thrilled to participate in this active learning experience where Medieval times come alive, in great splendor.

Exciting evening activities abound for the student travel group visiting the Washington D.C. area. Many evening activities are found in the greater metro area surrounding Washington D.C., and some are in downtown Washington D.C. Whatever your choice of student travel entertainment while in the D.C. area, make sure it complements the main trip theme, and contains an educational component that ties in with the curriculum.

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