|Catching a coach at 4.30am on the day following the end of term would not normally engender much excitement amongst a group of teenagers. On Saturday 21st March things were different, however, with all nineteen sixth form students on time and eagerly anticipating their visit to Washington DC and New York over the coming week.|
The party included students studying various combinations of A Level Politics, Business, Economics and History, alongside Mrs Gater, Mrs Maddocks and Mr Bell as accompanying staff. By the end of the week we had all gained some invaluable experiences and insights, visiting many of Washington's landmark political and historical sights as well as experiencing the hustle and bustle of New York, the hub of the modern global economy.
In Washington students experienced the poignancy of the changing of the guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, where so many American servicemen lie in rest. A walk around the nation's capital took in the many famous monuments - Washington, Lincoln, Korea, Vietnam, to name a few. The thrill of standing on the step where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I have a dream" speech and seeing Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address inscribed in stone (complete with spelling mistake) at the enormous monument that bears his name was tempered on this sunny spring morning by the thought of the many casualties commemorated by the various monuments visited; lives lost in the quest for the two words used most regularly by our excellent tour guide - liberty and freedom. The afternoon visit to two Smithsonian museums and an evening's bowling at 'Lucky Strikes' and eating at 'Fudruckers Burger Bar' concluded a packed first day.
Our second full day in Washington involved a detailed tour of Congress where, amongst other things, we got to see the impressive Library of Congress, various rooms within Congress itself and the Supreme Court, known as the "highest court in the land" (although perhaps the basketball court immediately above the Supreme Court should hold this accolade). The highlight of the day however was undoubtedly a private audience we had with two top Senate aides and a professional lobbyist, all concerned with the one trillion dollar farm and food budget held by the Senate's agricultural committee. The meeting was held in the room used for the Senate committee meetings and students asked questions covering a range of topics, including the workings of senate committees, the US political system, possible careers in US politics and issues surrounding US and EU agricultural trade. The meeting provided a fascinating insight into the behind-the scenes workings of the US political system.
Following a coach ride up through Philadelphia, where students enjoyed a four hour walking tour of the 'City of Brotherly Love' and it's many historical buildings, we arrived in New York. Based in a hotel on Times Square, the pace of our visit ratcheted up a notch amid the buzz and general hubbub of the Big Apple. Visiting Wall Street and the neighbouring financial district provided an intriguing insight into the US economy and its financial system, whilst the Empire State Building, the Natural History Museum, Central Park and a boat trip around the Statue of Liberty offered numerous photo opportunities, allowing students to indulge in their never-ending 'selfie' obsession. At times our visit felt like a tour around a Hollywood film set, such was the cinematic familiarity of the places we visited.
Spending time at the 9/11 memorial site and the accompanying reflective waterfall pools, set in the footmarks of the original twin towers, gave us all a far more sobering understanding of the challenges that have faced this city in recent times and the truly incredible resilience shown by its citizens in the wake of that disastrous day. Students on the trip were too young at the time to remember the events of 2001; all found this an incredibly moving and humbling experience.
On the last afternoon we found time to hit Fifth Avenue, shopping 'til we dropped at which point - suitcases bulging with presents from Bloomingdales and elsewhere - our plane headed back across the pond. We had been away for nearly seven days and, during that time, we had taken four flights, three coach trips, stayed in two hotels and walked approximately 70 km (compensating for at least some of the calories consumed along the way). The overnight flight home gave us all plenty of time to contemplate the many political, economic, business, historical, cultural (and gastronomic!) highlights of the tour.
John F Kennedy, whose grave we visited on our first morning at Arlington, stated that "things do not happen; they are made to happen". As such, congratulations and thanks should go to Mrs Gater, whose characteristically precise planning and organisation made these unforgettable experiences possible for all involved.
Participating students: Megan Atkins, Lydia Blundell, Megan Bree-McLeish, Chloe Cottle, Olivia Cridland, Tilly Gough, Shannon Grainger, Alex Grys, Nicole Higgins, Rob McIntosh, Will Morgan, James Murphy, Matthew Robinson, Alex Shaw, Sophie Smith, Ben Steinberg, Yasmin Taylor, James Tonks, Vic Winstone.