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Wednesday, 02 May 2012
Bolton School Girls had the opportunity of a lifetime when they visited the US and got to go inside the White House!
The rare chance came about through an Old Girl who was the PA to a 91 year old attorney at the White House, and organised for the Year 12 History and Government and Politics students to gain access while on their trip to Washington. On the day, the group visited the White House Information Centre before going across the road to The White House itself. After five different security checks the girls were finally inside! Meeting the president's dog was just one highlight as was leaving the building by the front door and waving to the tourists on the other side of the railings!
The girls' trip started in New York, where they visited the "Top of the Rock" and took a walking tour of Ground Zero, Battery Park, and the financial district including Wall Street. After leaving New York they travelled to Philadelphia where they had a guided tour of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Centre. From there the journey continued to Washington where, aside from the big tour of The White House, they were given a driving tour around the centre of Washington to see sites of interest, visited Roosevelt Park and John F. Kennedy's grave in Arlington, and drove out to Virginia to spend the afternoon at Mount Vernon. They also took an evening tour of Washington's iconic monuments including memorials for World War 2 and the Vietnam war. Another highlight was the visit to the Martin Luther King memorial which was especially moving for the girls as it was the anniversary of his death and the site was full of elderly African Americans who had come to pay their respects. They visited the Smithsonian Institute including the Museum of American History, the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court where they were given a quick run through the American political system.
On route back to New York the group travelled through rural Pennsylvania with their driver acting as tour guide as they drove through some wonderful countryside, even stopping off at two Amish farms.
Teacher, Mrs Sandra Heap, said: "It was a fantastic trip and a real thrill to go to the White House. Pennsylvania was a fantastic contrast to the cities of Washington and New York and gave the girls an insight into the different lives led by some American citizens."
Student, Charlotte Unwin, said: "The 7 day trip was a fantastic opportunity to see the places we study and to bring history alive for us. We'd like to thank the History department staff that accompanied us, and provided the knowledge that made this once-in-a-lifetime experience so interesting. The next time I write an essay about Civil Rights, I have more of an insight to what it was like, and I can say 'I've been there'!"
Charlotte's full account of the trip is below:
“Step away from the dog.” Four secret service men, all dressed in black, appeared out of nowhere. I froze, hand stretched out in mid air, poised to stroke the dog. I hesitated – were they joking? It’s a dog! They took a step forward, I took a step back. “I’m so sorry”, I blurted out, my British accent sounding blatantly obvious in comparison with the smooth American drawl of the crowd that was beginning to gather, hoping to witness a scandal in the White House. As possible newspaper headlines began to flash before my eyes, I quickly walked away, and inspected the display on the wall. Before I could recover from my embarrassment,
my eyes glanced over a picture of a dog, and not just any dog – the same one that I had been forbidden to touch. Yes – the white front paws and fluffy fur was undeniably the same! My eyes found the caption below “President Obama finds time in his busy schedule to walk the First Dog, Bo Obama.”
Each year, the History department take a group of Year 12 History, and Government and Politics students for the school trip of a lifetime – to experience the famous historical, political and, I must admit, commercial sites of America.
Behind the scenes, and working frantically to arrange the details and intricacies of the tour, was Mrs Heap. What with sending Visa forms, passport details and medical information, her life must have been hectic for the preceding weeks of the trip, and I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank her for all her efforts. We truly appreciate it. As well as visiting Washington DC we also experienced the delights of New York and Philadelphia – not forgetting a tour of Amish country in Pennsylvania. However, it was this year’s group that were lucky enough to experience the unforgettable tour of the White House.
Firstly, we had to queue outside the White House walls, where we were ticked off a list by security and allowed into another queue. After shuffling step-by-step, and nervously chatting amongst both ourselves and the other ‘chosen few’ people in the queue, we reached the front. Our passports were checked thoroughly and we were questioned. From here, we joined (yet another!) queue that led us to the end of the human aspect of the security checks. It was now up to technology. A tunnel of metal detectors, bag scanners, full body scanners and snifferdogs left our emotions frayed, jittery and drained. But we were still smiling – we were now inside the White House!
The tour was self-guided. This doesn’t mean we were allowed to ‘roam free’, searching for President Obama in the Oval Office, or the First Lady in the gardens. We were strictly contained and monitored to the ground floor. With security guards (fondly nicknamed Action Men) everywhere, and cameras focusing on every move, it was an intimidating, yet thrilling experience.
In the White House, we saw the likes of the Red Room, the Blue Room and the Green room (and yes – they are painted red, blue and green.) We learnt interesting facts and trivia about each room, and how past Presidents, compared to the current President, used it. In addition we also saw The East Room (the largest room in the White House which is used for receptions, concerts, press conferences and other large events. It has hosted many weddings including those of Lynda Bird Johnson and Alice Roosevelt.) The China Room (and yes, it did contain china, and glass, used by the Presidents.) The Vermeil Room is
another one we saw, and this, too, contained a collection of vermeil (gilded silver) that is used for large events.
With our allotted forty-five minutes up, we slowly and reluctantly made our way down the front steps and were streamed into the river of tourists, wildly taking photos and singing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ outside the front gates. It was then that I noticed a small group of Bolton School girls gathering round. Intrigued, I made my way towards them and as I drew near, I heard the distinct Scottish accent that belonged to Mr King, a History teacher at our school. This being the penultimate day of our trip, I was now used to his stories, totally
unbelievable from anyone else, but because he’d said it, there was a slight chance that it could be true. I ignored him, and turned to walk away, but something I heard captured my attention. He was holding up his left hand, and the girls, in turn, raised their hand to his.
“What’s going on?” I asked a girl who was fighting her way to the front of the crowd.
“It’s Mr King”, she said. “He touched it! He touched the dog!”
Now, I’ve heard many preceding sixth formers describe how it felt to visit the historical sites, and say that being there brought history alive for them, and now I can say I understand exactly how they felt. The most memorable of which being our visit to the Lincoln memorial, where I stood on the spot where Martin Luther King made his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, during the March on Washington of the summer of 1963. I heard the words of the speech ringing in my ears, and could vividly imagine the sea of people, stretching right out to the Washington Memorial in front of me, that had gathered there to witness an important
moment in history.
That day, we experienced a catalogue of famous landmarks, from John F. Kennedy’s grave in Arlington Cemetery, to the moving war memorials, featuring statues dedicated to the memory of those who fought in the World Wars and the Vietnam War. The statue dedicated to the African American lives lost during World War Two was particularly pertinent to our studies, and had a great impact on our group.
The following day, before we started our journey North to Newark, we took some time to see the Museum of American History. You’d never guess that a group of teenage girls could get so excited about a Formica Woolworths counter, but we did. It was the counter at which the famous four African American students sat themselves down, and began one of the most effective Civil Rights protests of the 60s. We participated in the miniature performance that took place around the counter, that re-enacted the bravery shown by these students, and it was
with pride that our teachers observed us correct a historical mistake made by the guide.
To end our day, we took a stroll towards the Capitol building, and sat on the grass, eating pretzels and snow cones until our hearts content, before heading off to the Hard Rock Café for dinner.
The 7 day trip was a fantastic opportunity to see the places we study and to bring history alive for us. We’d like to thank the History department staff that accompanied us, and provided the knowledge that made this once-in-a-lifetime experience so interesting. So, the next time I write an essay about Civil Rights, I have more of an insight to what it was like, and I can say ‘I’ve been there’.
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