“Experiential learning at its best” is how Lincoln Academy teacher Anna Myers described the recent trip taken by LA Alternative Education students to Washington, DC to learn about United States history and politics.
For many students on the trip this was their first time out of Maine, and several had never flown on an airplane before. For all of the students, the trip presented an incredible opportunity to step outside their comfort zone.
Alternative Education at Lincoln Academy has a rich 30-year history, and offers 10th-12th grade students the opportunity to pursue educational opportunities outside the traditional classroom setting. Many of these students learn best experientially, and the science and social studies curriculum in the Alternative Education program includes a frequent dose of outside-the-building learning. Students have taken a number of smaller educational trips throughout the year, from weekly visits to the Damariscotta River Association to field trips to Portland, Brunswick and Augusta.
The trip to Washington DC this April was made possible thanks to the generosity of a local donor, who wanted to give students the opportunity to have life-changing first-hand experiences outside of midcoast Maine. During the course of their week away from home the students experienced first hand the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes (and cherry blossoms) of the nation’s capital.
The group of students and their three teachers, Luke Suttmeier, Anna Myers, and Jody Matta flew from Portland, Maine to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, then spent most of their four days in the capital exploring the on foot or by a tour bus shared with two other small student groups from other parts of the country. The group benefited from the knowledge of an experienced local guide who engaged students with his wealth of information about history and culture in Washington DC.
Students had an action-packed daily itinerary, which started at seven each morning and kept them busy until nine or later each night. Highlights of the trip included walking through Arlington National Cemetery and witnessing the changing of the guard, night-time visits to the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Korean Memorial, and Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, among others, and time independently exploring several of the Smithsonian Museums.
A morning spent at George Washington’s former country home of Mount Vernon provided a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. Students also had the opportunity to meet with Maine Senators Angus King and Susan Collins, the latter of whom spoke with the students about pursuing their dreams and not limiting their options.
The trip had immense impact, both educationally and personally, on all travelers. For many of these students, this was the first time they had traveled outside of Maine, flown on an airplane, or spent more than 24 consecutive hours in a city. Homesickness and fatigue were definite challenges throughout, but the upside was a cache of new experiences, learning, and personal growth.
Sophomore Barrett Maxcy said, “it really was mind-blowing how different things are outside of this area. The class was pretty exhausted after four days, however, overall the trip was a very valuable life experience.”
“I really liked the trip and I learned a lot,” said junior John Corey. “The trip was very informative and it was great to learn about how the country was formed and how we persevered through different challenges.”
The memorials, including the 9/11 and war memorials, were almost universally quoted by students as being the most impactful and memorable stops on the tour.
Mark Twain said that “broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Leaving tranquil midcoast Maine for the nation’s capital was eye-opening for all involved.
“I was very grateful to be able to witness the students’ opening of themselves to new experiences,” said Jody Matta, a teacher in the Alternative Education program.
The Alternative Education program trip would not have been possible without the support of one very generous family, according to Alternative Education Program Director Luke Suttmeier. “We are lucky to have donors in this community who understand the importance of travel, and are willing to support students who might not otherwise get this chance.”