“I hugged a legend!” exclaimed eighth grader Malik Middleton. He was talking about Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, who met with our eighth-grade class earlier this month during their trip to Washington, D.C. “It was so humbling to meet someone who actually did what we read about in history books and still contributes to the world we live in now,” said Malik. The excitement on his face and enthusiasm in his voice as he recalled the visit illustrates the impact of Harlem Academy’s eighth-grade trip to our nation’s capital.
The four-day sojourn is not just about meeting with members of Congress (though students also met with Congressman Adriano Espaillat and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand). The trip is designed to introduce students to young staffers, particularly staffers of color, who are the engine behind much of the work that gets done on Capitol Hill.
These meetings led some of our students to envision a place for themselves on the Hill – and to see the pathway to get there. “After talking to the staffers, I imagined what it would be like if I worked in government,” said eighth grader Matthew Centeno. “This is where our nation’s laws are made and big issues are tackled. I’d be able to impact people’s lives in a positive way.”
Delali Lyons, also in eighth grade, agreed. “It was interesting to hear what the staffers do every day, such as answering calls from constituents and passing along people’s concerns to the senators,” she said. “They talked to us about diversity in government and the problems facing America right now. And because they were young – mainly in their 20s – we could really relate.”
Whether or not Malik, Matthew, Delali, or our other eighth graders end up pursuing a career in government, one thing is clear: These students know that they have the power to affect real change in the world.
Lead history teacher Sean Robertson echoes that sentiment. “The trip gives our young leaders a tangible way to reflect on our nation’s past and present – and to consider their role in its future,” he said. “This is not simply a field trip. It is a chance for a life experience for our students – a significant moment for personal growth – because of the emphasis on leadership and civil rights.”
To see photos of our eighth graders’ trip to Washington, D.C., click here.