When we boarded the train for DC last Tuesday (was it really just over a week ago??), there was another group on the platform. There were so many of them, Amtrak had arranged a special car just for them. Mostly African-American, with a few teachers white, black and hispanic; and a disabled woman in a powered wheelchair. I didn’t think much about it at the time.
They were on our train back to Hartford last Friday. And this time (because our twelve and their forty left just six empty seats in the car), we were placed in the same compartment with them. And we got a chance (coming off our eighth year of running a trip to DC) to talk to the teachers with this school group from Hartford’s North End.
Eye-opening. A marvel.
I find running trip for twelve people to be a tremendous challenge. Running a trip for forty people (on half the per-person budget, as it turns out)… whew! All I had to do was set the price for my program, and parents paid it. They had to set the price, negotiate it down, take out meals (kids had their own meal money in day-enevelopes), eliminate paid museum trips, and then fund-raise… and fund-raise… and fund-raise…
And they eliminated a dozen kids for disciplinary issues long before the group even left on the trip. I (if I’d had any) would have had to take them along. For many of the kids in the group, it was the first time they’d left Connecticut. For others, it was the first time they’d left Hartford.
We traded tips and ideas for two hours at the start of our ride, and then for another two hours as we neared our destination (you can talk for a long time, nap for a long time, and talk for a long time, on an 8-hour train trip. It’s one of the features of that way of traveling). They gave us their DC trivia packet, and we gave them our cellphone photo scavenger hunts for several DC museums. They raved about the White House (they’d actually managed to score a tour, which I’ve never been able to do), and we both expressed disappointment with the Capitol Visitors’ Center tour (the galleries had been closed to them owing to furor in the House over disruptions during the health care bills; and Hillary Clinton was testifying on the Hill the day our group was there). [As an aside, I like the 10-minute film at the CVC, but my colleague doesn’t].
And my colleague and I encouraged them to plan to go again next year. They were reluctant; it had been a lot of work to get forty kids down to DC, and a lot of fund-raising. But we gave them guidebooks and maps. We hope to see them again next year.