Close Up Club Goes to Washington

After a whirlwind week in Washington D.C., DHS teacher Chris Billingsley writes in…

Many of you are aware that the DHS Close Up Club recently spent a week in Washington, D.C.  I was unable to provide daily updates because of network problems but the following is a summary of the Close Up and DHS activities of our week in D.C.  To my blog friends, sorry for the late news.

Sunday, April 11- Students and parents arrived at DHS at 3:00 A.M. to make a 6:00 early bird flight.  We eventually arrived at Hartfield, moved through security, and made it to our gate with time to spare. The flight was a very smooth one.   The United flight stewards treated us, especially the girls, like first class passengers.

After arriving at the Crystal City Sheraton, we visited the National Zoo and Arlington National Cemetery.  At Arlington, students participated in a wreath laying ceremony dedicated to the sacrifice of two Decatur students, Lieutenant Commander Harry Edwards and Sargent Jonathan B. Shields.  Colonel Milton Shipman, a friend of Colonel Richards, helped our students during the ceremony.   After returning to the hotel and having dinner, the students attended their first Close Up class and went on a field trip to the Marine Corp Iwo Jima monument.  The day finally ended for the students at 10:30.

Monday and Tuesday, April 12 and 13- Students and teachers were split into two separate groups.  One of the great things about the Close Up program is that teachers can participate in their own classes.  The teacher schedule included “Unusual Presidential Monuments of D.C.”, lunch at the National Press Club, and in the afternoon, “Teaching the Fundamentals of the Federal Court System”, a fascinating case study about a student’s right to free speech in high school.  On Tuesday, teachers went to Mount Vernon in the morning and the George Washington Masonic Memorial in the afternoon (Talk about way cool Dan Brown conspiracy theories- What a fascinating place!).  Students did their own program both days.  Tuesday evening, students prepared for a debate, conducted a mock congress, and met with me to plan out “Capital Hill Day” where we discussed questions they would ask our congressional representatives and senators.

Wednesday, April 14- I can’t tell you how much our group relied on Colonel Shipman throughout the week.  He rearranged his schedule to help chaperon our group at the capital.  In the morning, we tool a tour of the capital, thanks to Ms. Williams, an aide to Congressman Hank Johnson.  In the afternoon, we met with Senators Isakson and Chambliss and Congressman Johnson.  One of the big highlights for the students was meeting Miss Louisiana.  Both the girls and the guys were dying to have their picture made with Miss L.  We had a little time left over to explore so we went to the offices of Senators Grasley, McCain, and Snow.  One of our students, Lucy, grew up in Maine and wanted to meet Senator Snow.  Unfortunately we just missed the senator, but her staff gave Lucy an autograph picture and other memorabilia.  The afternoon ended with Close Up taking the students out to diner and a “night on the town” (which ended up being field trips to the Jefferson, Pentagon, and Air Force memorials).  Teachers went back to the hotel and crashed.

Thursday was another big day for the DHS students.  Out of more than 300 students from around the country who were in D.C. last week, our group was the only school to spend the day at the Gettysburg National Battlefield.  Here is the email I sent parents describing the day: “We had a great day at Gettysburg.  After a very long evening Wednesday, I wasn’t sure if students would make the 7:30 departure time but all were ready to go.  It took almost two hours to get to Gettysburg.  I have some great pictures of your teens studying (or was it praying) in the back of the bus.  They were so still and quiet! We arrived at the Gettysburg visitors center around 9:30 with time to kill (sorry).  Our CU guide thought it would be nice to go to the national cemetery where Lincoln gave his address.  She took a wrong turn and we ended up at Cemetery Ridge, the site of the third day, final battle.  We found the site and monument where Ms. Clyde McCarty’s great uncle was captured by the federal troops.  We then walked over to the national cemetery.  Two students volunteered to read Lincoln’s speech and I made some comments before walking back to the visitor’s center for the movie, lunch, and museum tour.  Oh wait, we didn’t make it to the museum because 1. students took an hour to eat lunch and 2. when I told students to head to the museum, they said (in that sing-song voice), “Mr. Beeeeeeeee, can’t we go to the gift shop?”  So thats where we spent our time before the battlefield tour.  (I will skip the part where, in the gift shop, students put on Rebel and Union caps,  picked up toy rifles, and reenacted the final battle- Not our best moment) I told the tour guide, Mr. Rice, that we wanted to focus on the second and third days at Gettysburg.  He suggested that we begin on Seminary Ridge, go to Cemetery Ridge, and finish at Little Round Top.  We started at the monument to the 11th Mississippi Rifles and moved to Robert E. Lee’s monument. Right after the guide said, “Any Questions?”, I asked if we could walk across the field.  He agreed and off we went (except those who though it was appropriate to wear flip-flops to Gettysburg.  Only one brave flip-flopper decided to make “Billingsley’s Charge”).  It was quite exciting.  Halfway across, we had one minor casualty.  A student said, “Mr. B, I lost my cell phone on the trail.  I know I had it when we started.”  I told her that since we were under heavy artillery fire, there was a good possibility that she left it on the bus.  She courageously moved forward.  We finally reached the road and, after a pep talk from Major General B, we began our final charge (a real sprint) up the hill to “The Angle”.  In spite of the withering fire from Union guns, we made it and have now re-written history.  As it turned out, the cell was left at the visitor center and will be sent back to Decatur via Fedex.  One more casualty.  When we finally made it to the Angle and sat down, a student asked about several little bugs on her legs.  “You need to pick those off”, Mr. Rice said, “Those are ticks”.  OMG, it was a complete surrender.  Your brave teens, who showed incredible courage during B’s charge, quickly surrendered to Union forces who promised bug spray.  If only General Meade had known, he could have avoided all the slaughter that terrible day.

Changing the tone, I want you to know that I am very proud of your teens.  The CU staff has told me that these 9th and 10th grade students have dressed and acted better than most of the juniors and seniors.  Thank you for allowing me the privilege of acting as their parents this week.  The ceremony at Arlington, Capital Hill day, and our trip to Gettysburg will be some of the highlights of my teaching career.  Students reenacting Lincoln’s speech at the cemetery, making the final charge up Cemetery Ridge, challenging members of Congress on their views concerning abortion, DADT, and oil exploration in ANWAR, you just can’t teach these kinds of lessons in the classroom.  I will remember this for a long time. One more night.  Big dinner and dance.  Tomorrow we leave for the airport at 9:15.  Flight leaves at 12:15.   We should be back at DHS for pickup around 3:15.  Looking forward to seeing all of you at school. Take care and may God continue to bless you and your family, Decatur High School, and the United States of America.”

That’s it.  Glad to be back home.  Washington is a nice place to visit but nothing compares to living and teaching in the City of Decatur.  Enjoy the pics.

2 thoughts on “Close Up Club Goes to Washington”

  1. We hired these kids to clean our yard and gutters during their fundraising project. They sent us a postard from DC thanking us, in part, for helping make the trip possible. A remarkably thoughtful gesture that comments on the thoughtfulness of their teacher, Chris Billingsly.

    Glad to see they had a great trip.

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