by Jo Buttress
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”…Aristotle
What makes an experience transcend the norm or the usual? Is it individual moments, or simply the big picture of what transpires over a given frame in time?Pike’s annual 8th grade trip to Washington DC is always a treat for those of us who are fortunate enough to experience it, and this year’s excursion was truly a pleasure. There are certain givens on any school trip involving 13-14 year olds: there will be glitches; personal items misplaced, kids late for breakfast, friends talking loudly and exuberantly when they shouldn’t be, and crystal clear directions mysteriously missed!
And yet, every year there are those moments that become indelibly engraved in our memories and keep us coming back. This year’s trip was no exception. The Pike Class of 2016 is a special group, and I have looked forward to sharing DC with them since we began this journey in September. Admittedly, expectations were high, and this group did not disappoint. The trip was one of the best I can recall, a collection of wonderful moments on the one hand but also a gestalt that reflects the extraordinary nature of Pike students.
An examination of the DC schedule might appear an exercise in masochism to the faint-hearted. Often, the kids will ask, “When do we get down time?” The answer is simply, “Not often!” There is so much to see and do, and the days are full. This year, for example, Wednesday consisted of a very early breakfast, a tour of the Capitol, a fun and bizarre experiment in acoustics at the Canadian embassy, a trip to the “Newseum”, an exploration of the Air and Space Smithsonian, a guided tour through Arlington Cemetery complete with the changing of the guard ceremony, dinner at a food court, and then visits to the World War II, Vietnam War, Lincoln, Korean War, and Pentagon (9/11) Memorials. Sound busy? By the chaperones’ “fit-bit” estimates, a total of 12 miles and 28,000 steps were walked by many group members, certainly a full day!
While DC contains enough fascination to captivate any tourist for days on end, it is the character of our young Pike scholars that makes this trip so memorable for those of us who accompany them year after year. I always marvel at the incredible curiosity of our 8s, asking questions at every turn, sharing knowledge with each other and impressing the tour guides both with their sharp minds and polite affect.
This group like so many before them savored their four-day expedition. Their excitement palpable, they raced through the National Gallery of Art in search of particular artists’ works in order to win a coveted Starbucks prize; they absorbed every disturbing image at the Holocaust Memorial, many of them shedding tears and asking thoughtful questions along the way. They embraced the solemn peacefulness of Arlington and reveled in the rich beauty of Mt Vernon. Sleeping hours were scarce as they always are on this trip, but our students approached each day with remarkably positive energy.
In classic Pike “Quill” fashion, these students crunched equations of parabolas while observing the fountains at the WW2 memorial; they cheered heartily for the Red Sox at the Nationals game (incurring the wrath of the sparse home crowd); they wrote thank you notes to the hotel cleaning staff, and expressed their appreciation countless times to most everyone else who helped them along the way as the week unfolded. A few even queried whether they should “bring back the change” when handed their meal stipend for the ball game! Every year, I am struck by the sensitivity and thoughtfulness with which our students move through this trip. Though far from perfect, our 8th graders always heed of our request to take care of one another while in DC, and that is why the trip continues to be successful each year. When Pike chaperones get that knowing look of pity from observers who realize we are leading a middle school trip, we can actually smile and have the last laugh, because we are having as much fun as the kids.
This class, much like the ones before them, is composed of many remarkable individuals, but it is the group dynamic when they come together that makes them so special. In just eight short weeks, they will wrap up their 8th-grade year. They have left such a positive mark on Pike, and I feel fortunate to have been able to enjoy them, particularly this past week in such a pristine setting as Washington DC. While the perfect weather certainly provided ideal conditions for this trip, I give much credit to these students, who have now created their own set of DC memories,following the Pike tradition of 8s who have come before them in this rite of passage.
Thank you, Class of 2016, and to my fearless fellow chaperones, who slept maybe 15 hours total in DC if they were lucky!
The Pike School is an independent, coed, day school for Pre-K through ninth grade in Andover, Massachusetts. Visit pikeschool.org to learn more about Pike – and visit our blog for more thought leadership.