Flying Solo With My First Busload of Kids

Some of you might remember my recent series of posts on tour guide training - all done in an effort to prepare for my first real experience with a group of visiting school kids. Well, that first experience is officially in the books. Interested to hear about it? Here goes. 

A number of days ago, an opportunity arose through Junior Tours to serve as the sole guide for Mrs. Brandon's junior high class from Green Cove Springs, Florida. I jumped at it.  The one wrinkle was that during our four days together, one day would include a tour of Philadelphia - a city I'm not too familiar with. Sure, I can talk about The Founding Era with some dexterity, but when it comes to specifics about Philadelphia's buildings and city lore, I'm not exactly conversant. Luckily, I was able to shadow a fellow guide (my buddy Clift) conducting his own school tour of the city of brotherly love a few days prior to my outing, so I was able to get the lay of the land ... somewhat. In the meantime, I hit the books.   

Day One

I'm excited. Nervous also. It begins as I meet the kids at Arlington National Cemetery, walking and talking them up to Kennedy's gravesite and then to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Gorgeous day. So far, so good. It's a hike, but the kids have been sitting on a bus for countless hours, so I don't feel bad making them step out. After Arlington it's over to the Holocaust Museum as I chatter away on the bus; my sparkling microphone presence on full display. 

Now, if I had my druthers, I probably would not have put these two locations back-to-back on the itinerary, but this early in the game I didn't feel comfortable suggesting a change. Don't get me wrong, they're both powerful experiences and important sites for anyone to see, but the one/two punch of solemnity right off the bat might have been ill-considered. A good note for next time. 

Do or do not. There is no try. 

After the museum our group of 50 souls (36 kids, 13 adults and yours truly) adjourn to dinner. This is when I get to talk with Robin and Donna - the two teachers who I would come to pal around with during most of the trip. It's really Robin's (Mrs. Brandon's) show, and she was a real sweetheart to me throughout. I couldn't have asked for a better group of adults to share my first solo school group experience with. It's an Italian joint named Buca Di Beppo and I hit the pasta hard. I figured a determined carbo-load is in order so that I can fuel myself for the tour-a-thon. 

Once dinner concludes it's off to the World War II Memorial for a night time tour. I deploy the lightsaber (purchased at Target the day prior) so the kids can follow me in the dark. This sparks much conversation. Many of the young ones ask if they might be allowed to wield the mysterious and elegant device - but I deny them. They are but padawan learners and besides, if you let one do it then you have to let them each have a turn. I ain't got the time - I'm here to sling knowledge.  

We then re-board the bus and journey back to the hotel. I'm staying with the group throughout the trip, so the Sheraton in Reston, VA is my home for the next few days.  

Day Two 

A long march through DC.  We rise early and stop at Iwo Jima on our way into town.  This is followed by a trip to Air & Space where the kids are left to their own devices. We then walk over to the Grant Statue in front of the U.S. Capitol Building for a group picture. Getting them all in line is a bit like herding cats but Robin knows what she's doing. At this point the prospect of having 49 people follow me around is less intimidating and I've relaxed considerably. Now that the picture has been taken I need to get them up to the other side of the Capitol so they can make their timed entry at 12:30.

The Prime Minister of Ireland was paying the Capitol a visit - accompanied by our President.

A small complication arises because it's St. Patrick's Day (I'm wearing a green bow tie and sweater combo) and the Prime Minister of Ireland is paying Capitol Hill a visit. This means that the usual route is closed and we have to take the long way around. Although I'm nervously looking at my watch the entire time, we're able to roll with the punches and handily make our scheduled ticket time. After their Capitol tour concludes we have lunch in the cafeteria, which is expensive but convenient. Lunch being consumed, we take the underground tunnel the Library of Congress followed by a short walk by the Supreme Court. Eventually, we meander down to the bus pickup and travel down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. I like doing the White House because you get to talk about all the Revolutionary War statues in Lafayette Park, opposite the mansion - the kids like it because it's the White House. The usual compliment of protesting crazies are on display, which presents a good opportunity to ask the kids what Constitutional Rights they currently see on display (seriously, some of these people are crazy though - one cat keeps screaming about an unholy alliance between the Federal Reserve and the CIA ... yawn).

We return to the bus and venture to Union Station for dinner. The kids have meal vouchers which they can redeem in the food court.  Subway seems to be a popular option and I chat with a bunch of the kids about what their trip has been like so far. They're a sweet group. Of course, there will always be the ones that are too-cool-for-school, but on the whole I honestly thought that a majority of the kids were more-or-less engaged. This engagement is tested as we take an evening tour of the Tidal Basin monuments and the temperature drops considerably. I give them a talk about what is and what is not appropriate behavior inside memorials. With our game faces on, we brave the cold and march from MLK to FDR to Jefferson with my light saber ablaze with the burning green fire of knowledge leading the way. 

Back to the hotel. 

A report on days 3 & 4 will be up tomorrow.