The history buff in Ethan Hyde had the eighth-grader looking forward to his trip to Washington, D.C., for months in advance.
But thanks to the government shutdown, Hyde and more than 100 other students from Marlowe Middle School in Lake in the Hills and Heineman Middle School in Algonquin had to readjust their expectations for the schools’ first trip to the nation’s capital.
“We didn’t get to see the Smithsonian or the National Archives,” Hyde said. “I was looking forward to the Smithsonian the most because I like history a lot.”
Plans that were about a year in the works hit a snag in early October when Congress failed to pass legislation to avoid a shutdown, closing several of the group’s planned destinations before their trip last weekend.
The last-minute changes had some parents questioning whether they’d be getting their money’s worth, and a handful pulled their students from the trip.
Students were particularly disappointed by the removal of the Smithsonian Institution, National Archives and Records Administration, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum from the trip agenda, teachers said.
But in general, reactions from kids were more tame.
“A lot of them had never been to D.C., so they didn’t have a real understanding, a real expectation,” said John Hanfland, a Marlowe social studies teacher who was a chaperone.
Organizers stayed positive and made the most of the trip to D.C. Local Congressmen Randy Hultgren and Peter Roskam met with the group and gave them a tour of the Capitol.
“The experience was not wasted on these kids,” Heineman math teacher and chaperone Michelle McGehee said. “Representative Roskam was able to explain the shutdown in such a simplistic, easy-to-understand way.”
At the end of their meeting with the group, the congressmen presented each school with a flag that had been flown over the Capitol building.
Throughout the rest of their weekend, the group visited and gained easy access to several memorials that were shut down, as rangers “just kind of watched as you walked by and made no efforts to stop you from going in,” McGehee said.
“It was turned into a great learning experience – what real world protesting and using the First Amendment, using your rights is all about,” added literacy teacher Pam Gulledge, a chaperone.
Gulledge said a point that Roskam made Friday, that the kids will always remember they were in Washington during the shutdown, resonated with her.
“And of course, I’m the literacy teacher that’s always thinking of college applications and how our kids can set themselves apart,” she said. “Putting the two together, it’s a perfect opportunity.”
That’s not to say the teachers were completely excited about the last-minute changes. McGehee can see the silver lining if she squints, but: “I’d rather have been there when they could have gotten the full thing,” she said.
Hyde agreed. While he said the group made the most of less-than-ideal circumstances, the eighth-grader is bummed he only glimpsed a couple of his top priorities from afar.
“It didn’t hit him at the time,” said his stepdad, Mark Rowland. “But I think it hit him after the fact.”