PLYMOUTH - The recent trip to Washington, D.C., for a group of students led by Peter Veleas, Terryville High School Social Studies teacher, “far exceeded my expectations,” Veleas said.
“It was just a tremendous experience, I can’t speak enough about it,” he told the Board of Education recently, in giving a presentation about the inaugural trip, which was part of an education tour program in the nation’s capital.
Veleas said he and the six THS students who went on the trip met people from 10 different states, and he personally felt he got “invaluable professional development” from the trip.
Emily Morgan, one of the THS participants, said there were about 150 students altogether in the program and they would break up into smaller group workshops to discuss the monuments and museums they went to.
“So when we went to the Jefferson Memorial, we discussed in our workshop what was going on at the time when they built the memorial and what was going on when Jefferson was president,” she said.
At one such workshop, there were a liberal speaker and a conservative speaker, she said. “We could ask questions that would guide their debate. Some of the questions we would ask were ‘what are your views on gun control?’ or ‘what are your views on abortion?’ and they would debate respectfully with each other about that.”
“We learned more about how we feel politically and we were able to more respectfully and competently express how we felt, even to strangers,” she said. “So that was really cool.”
Veleas talked about Capitol Hill Day, which he described as “probably the highlight of the trip.” The group visited the offices of Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District.
“We didn’t get to meet directly with them, but we did sit down with some of their staff and talk to them about current issues of the day, like the tax reform that was going on. Some of the students asked questions about college tuition and how that can be made cheaper, which was great,” he said.
The students did a very good job of coming up with questions and were very prepared for the meetings, he said.
Murphy’s staff took them on a tour of the Capitol Building, including an underground tram that leads from the Senate Office Building to the Capitol, and other places the public doesn’t normally go, Veleas said.
Student Savannah Wallingford talked about some of the friendships they made on the trip.
There were 10 other schools participating, she said. “Our first night we had a workshop where we did some fun icebreakers. It was very confusing at first because you don’t know anyone. Thankfully our workshops were split up into groups that were roughly 20 to 30, and so you really do develop a bond.”
“Throughout the trip you get to better know people,” she said. “I’m terrible with names, it took me till Friday when I finally knew everyone’s names. I was friends with pretty much everyone. I met another Savannah, so that was cool. You get to experience different political views, even through the big debate we had you still develop your friendship. Your political views don’t affect the friendships you make.”
Morgan described how on their last day there, their small THS group were free to explore the city on their own.
“It was just the seven of us, but that was interesting because we were able to see a lot more and talk to each other more freely,” she said.
Among the places they went was Arlington National Cemetery, she said. “We got to see part of the changing of the guard, which was really cool. We got to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, JFK’s memorial with the eternal flame, and the Arlington House. The view of the city from there was just breathtaking.”
“But it would have been nice to have a big group so that’s why we’re here to talk about it so that more people will come next year,” she added.
The final night, there was a dance party for all the students, Morgan said. “We got to dance with all the other kids that went on the trip and there was a photo booth so we got some nice photos of all the friends we had met. So Friday was just really a nice way to end the week.”
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.