This year, the eighth grade added an exciting stop to its annual trip to Washington, D.C., stepping through the doors of the brand-new National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The museum had been open to the public for only four days when Penn Charter entered to tour its unrivaled documentation of African American life, history and culture. Early critics have praised not only its collection but the architecture of the bronze-colored structure – wrapped with lattice work that pays homage to ironwork crafted by enslaved African Americans – and the symbolic importance of its position on the National Mall, between the White House and the Washington Monument.
“The biggest takeaway for our students,” social studies teacher Josh Oberfield said, “was understanding the importance of being recognized as a major influence, a building block – literally builders – of this country, and appreciating that.”
PC eighth graders visit Washington, D.C. each year, touring tour the U.S. Capitol, Library of Congress, Supreme Court, various monuments and assorted Smithsonian Museums. They have light-hearted fun, too, including a trip to the bowling alley.
Back in the summer, when she began planning this year’s trip, Middle School mathematics teacher and eighth grade advisor Jen Ketler wanted her PC students to be among the first to visit the new museum. Combining patience and persistence, Ketler visited the museum website daily so she could swoop in at just the right moment to secure tickets for all 84 eighth graders.
Imana Legette, PC director of diversity and inclusion and a Middle School social studies teacher, said adult visitors complemented the PC students for their attentiveness and respect.
“They really took to heart what they were seeing. No matter the race and ethnicity of the student, they felt the power of the museum,” Legette said. “Adult strangers commented that they were so glad young people were there and taking it so seriously, because they had lived it.”
The Nation, in a story about the import of the new museum, explains how the it has been added to the itinerary of the traditional field trip to the nation's capitol for many schools – and highlights the PC students' visit to make the case.
Another meaningful addition to the trip included, on the first night, service work with PC Overseer Mark Hecker OPC ’99 for On the Same Page UNITED; the project supports juveniles incarcerated in adult prisons by sharing their poetry and short stories with individuals outside prison. PC students read and then added – writing in colorful ink on the page – praise, encouragement and contextual comments for the incarcerated boys.
Viewed through the lens of the new Strategic Vision, both experiences advance the goal to deepen our identity and actions as a Friends school, and our students' understanding of Quaker values of equity and justice.