This past Saturday, my journey with the 8th graders of Lodi, Wisconsin came to a close. It was a terrific day.
The action began as I met the students at the newly renovated White House Visitor Center - which is fabulous. They have a great movie, cool exhibits and interesting artifacts (my personal favorite was the desk from which FDR delivered his fireside chats). The kids had early tickets for a White House tour, so us guides helped get them organized and then stepped aside as they went inside for their tour. About 45 minutes later, we met them in Lafayette Park and then boarded the bus to drive up Embassy Row.
Embassy Row (the length of Massachusetts Ave. between downtown and the Cathedral) is one of those stretches of road all DC Guides need to familiarize themselves with. It's a frequent bus route, and you need a spiel to cover all the embassies and important buildings you encounter along the way. This day I was hanging out on Rob's coach to see how he handled the tour. He's got a deep reservoir of knowledge and a deft touch with the kids, so it was a treat to watch him work.
At the end of Embassy Row we disembarked the bus to take a tour of the National Cathedral. Rob led us around the interior of the massive building, dispensing knowledge at every turn. We learned about the architecture, the stained glass windows and even the moon rock hidden in plain sight. The tour ended down in the crypt where St. Joseph's chapel guards the entrance to the Helen Keller gravesite. Afterwards, we boarded the bus and made a quick stop at the Zoo to see the pandas. Normally the pandas just sit there like lumps, but we were fortunate to arrive at feeding time and see them animatedly munching on apples - the kids were transfixed.
Next up was the Air & Space Museum, always a popular one with students. If you're a guide you can also take advantage of a complimentary McDonald's value meal in the commissary if you flash your license - oh happy day! The kids had free reign while Rob, Heidi and I sat down and chatted about the day, strategizing about our next destination, the Holocaust Museum. The journey towards the Holocaust Museum was an instructive one, because the route usually taken to the bus drop was blocked, so we had to divert and drop at another spot. The ability to adapt to inconveniences or unexpected delays is important, because you encounter them all the time - today was no exception.
Once inside, we got the kids organized and then they were (eventually) brought in from the cold and given a museum orientation. The Holocaust Museum is a somber place dealing with serious subject matter so it's important that the students be on their best behavior. Then, while the kids took the tour, I wandered around some of the areas outside the general exhibit. One of these orbital areas was called Daniel's Story and is geared towards children while the other was about the history of anti-semitism and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Our day ended with a trip to the Air Force Memorial and a dinner drop off at the Pentagon City Mall.
So what did I learn during my training? Tons. The most important stuff was logistical - how to get the kids organized, where to stand, the best bus routes, timing the day properly & working an itinerary. Heidi and Rob were terrific and eager to share their knowledge with me. I'm sure I'll benefit greatly from the time I spent with them.
Also, I learned about how the tour experience can be both exhilarating (when you have a good group, which we did) and exhausting as you're on your feet and moving around for a good portion of the day, walking and talking wherever you go. Now all that's left for me is lead my very own student group!