D.C. Shutdown? Not For Us!

by Ryan Sparzak

Should a Washington, D.C. school trip be affected by the government shutdown?

The reports began trickling into the Global Travel Alliance on October 1. D.C. was shutting down. D.C. was shutting down? How is that even possible? We read the initial posts and email convos, but didn’t think much of them. Then SYTA began posting information, and then DestinationDC posted these guidelines and we all began to take this shutdown very serious…along with the rest of America.

The shutdown triggered a flurry of activity both virtually and on the ground. The Travel Channel, and many other travel companies, posted a D.C. shutdown guide. Bloggers and news outlets jumped on board with politically weighted articles and one-sided graphics explaining the shutdown. Those that love a good protest began organizing. There was the typical protest, followed by the more creative protests. And of course there was the tragic story of the mother that “stormed” the Capitol Building.

From a historical and political perspective, it was all very interesting; from a tour guide perspective, not so much. We had a trip heading out on October 3.

How do we still put together something incredible for these students in the midst of the shutdown? Thankfully, we have a wealth of experienced travel agents, guides, and educators on our staff that know how to deal with these challenges. I won’t go into it here, but they went above and beyond for the students!

After an uneventful flight and lunch, we were greeted at Regan International Airport by our guide J.J. and our Gunther Tour Bus, which the students appropriately named Gunther. Gunther became our mobile classroom and D.C. Shutdown Command Center. Despite the changes in itinerary, middle school humor, odd smells, and crazy mood swings helped to create a sense of normalcy to the trip. Middle school kids love a challenge, and still think adults are cool, so RyManhattan and TourGuideJJ kept the kids laughing and in good spirits.

The challenges came when it was time to see the monuments and memorials. Some were wide open, others were tightly guarded and locked down. We thought things would be much more accessible after our night visit to the Iwo Jima Memorial was uncontested. However, other memorials like the MLK, Jefferson, and Lincoln provided no entrance, not even for a somewhat adventurous group, group leader, and tour guide. We made one bold attempt to hop the barrier at the Korean War Memorial until one surly and under fed security guard decided to take his “week without pay” out on a group of unsuspecting Coloradans.

Throughout the week, it was nice to read articles and tweets about other tour companies, like Tim Krepp (@DClikealocal) going through the same challenges with a school from Texas. We also got our own two minutes of fame when 9News in Denver did a human interest story on our tour. Plan B had become Plan A, and the partial shutdown became only a partial disappointment.

Thankfully, there is so much more to D.C. than white stone and our nation’s attic. Students were able to enjoy places they wouldn’t normally see. The Spy Museum and the Newseum ended up being highlights of the trip for students and adults. The day long excursion to Monticello and the amazing (for lack of a better word) fried chicken at Michie’s Tavern helped us all forget about not being able to stand under the Capitol rotunda and missing out on “bubble boy’s” suit at the Smithsonian.

washington dc school trip, educational travel, student travel washington dc

Finally, and probably most noteworthy, these student’s got to see our country’s political system at work, even if it was not at it’s best. There were protesters, news stories, and discussions happening all around them. Our visit to Colorado Senator Bennet’s office at the Capitol was cut short when he was called down to the senate floor for an impromptu vote. Sure this was a bummer, but the conversations and questions the student’s asked his congressional staff helped to lock into their developing brains the political process and structure that makes our country what is today. Perhaps the daily travelling lessons on sacrifice, freedom, and citizenship in this tumultuous context will inspire some of them to work so that our country does not end up in this spot again. If anything, they have a D.C. trip story that very few other students will be able to match. Let’s hope so.

Ryan Sparzak works at Global Travel Alliance as the Lead Educator and owns Master’s degrees in Education and Educational Leadership. You can read more about Ryan and the rest of our team or send him an email.

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