This article was written by Allie Bourgeois, a student in Journalism class.
For the first time in three years, U32 teachers will bus their way to Washington D.C. along with the eighth-grade class this coming June.
The school has been traveling to D.C. in some way since the mid-70s, but the tradition of an eighth-grade graduation trip is more recent.
Sue Verchereau, Administrative Assistant in the middle school office, can’t remember exactly when it began. When she started working here in 2002, the yearly trip, started by Sally DeCicco, had already been happening for some two decades.
“We’re not 100% sure exactly when it started; the school had some of our data hacked last year [and we lost] our [records of] previous itineraries and things like that for DC,” said assistant principal Amy Molina. “[But] our best guess is the late 80s, early 90s.”
Amy and Sue have been working together to plan the entire DC trip for over a decade.
“[Sue] takes the lead on the financial part of it and making sure that we raise the money we need to raise and that we’re helping families and kids. I’m more on the logistics side of it. I organize the itinerary and make all the contacts with all the different places that we go,” said Amy.
Sue’s office window as she organizes chaperone groups for the trip
Sue organizes 4-5 fundraisers a year to help kids gather money needed for the trip. It’s not required that students fundraise the money needed to go on the trip, but the option is there for those who need it. If, by the time the trip comes around, a student still needs financial help, they can dip into their grades’ scholarship fund. (The scholarship fund is extra money collected from fundraising for the DC trip.)
“[The trip] is a great culminating activity for eighth graders because so much of what happens in DC is directly tied to the eighth-grade curriculum,” said Amy. The Civil Rights, Holocaust, and systems of government units covered in the curriculum build up to the museums and memorials visited in D.C.
A bulletin board in the middle school with the trip’s itinerary and need-to-know information
A cornerstone of the trip is a visit to the National Mall. From there, students have a chance to visit all of the Smithsonian Museums, see the monuments along the green, and tour the Capitol Building. They’ll also see a show, Shear Madness this year, at the Kennedy Center.
Class of 2021 on the steps of the Capital Building in 2017 photograph by Sue Verchereau
A group of students touring the Capital Building photograph by Sue Verchereau
Students visiting the Thomas Jefferson Memorial photograph by Sue Verchereau
But planning this year has been different. It’s a lot more expensive and a lot more difficult.
“Costs have gone up a ton, specifically [with] the buses, but [with] meals and the cost to stay at Marymount University [as well],” said Amy. “[It’s] a lot more expensive to go than we were expecting. In the past, I think we paid [roughly] $24,000 for our buses. [This year it was] $36,000.”
The price students pay to go on the trip has increased as well. In 2019, it was $680. This year, it was $720, and it will continue to increase as $720 didn’t cover the costs. They’re using leftover money from the scholarship fund and contributions to pay for the trip as best they can. The difference, if any, will be covered by the school.
It’s also been more difficult to get into museums. Previously, groups could come and go as they pleased but this year Amy had to reserve specific time slots for visiting.
On top of planning, Sue expects that the trip itself might be more difficult too.
“It’s going to be exciting [but] a tiny bit frustrating to take them because they might not have the skills to be out in a big group. They just didn’t have the experiences older kids would have,” said Sue. “A lot of them haven’t traveled [in a while] because you couldn’t for a long time.”
Another concern is the number of students not traveling. “It looks like 84 students are going this year; that would be 16 not going,” said Sue. Although this is a normal occurrence, every year she is “sort of befuddled about it [because it’s] a wonderful opportunity.”
As well as being a “wonderful opportunity,” Sue views the trip as a rite of passage. “It’s [great for] students who are just getting ready to step up to high school. They’re really right to have an experience on a college campus,” said Sue.
For Amy, the trip is about teaching students about the world.
“I think school in general, it’s not just learning about how to be a better mathematician or how to spell hard words. It’s [learning] how you [are] a part of our world. And I think that one way to do that is through experiences,” she said. “We have a lot of kids at U32 that if we didn’t take the DC trip, may never leave Vermont, may never go to Washington, DC. Getting your eyes open to a bigger world is a huge part of this [trip]. That’s why I love doing [it],”
The DC trip didn’t happen in 2020 or 2021 because of the pandemic. Last year, in 2022, it was scheduled but then canceled due to complications with planning. (DC hadn’t fully opened up from the pandemic just yet; Premier Transportation, the bus company they use, wouldn’t take them; and Marymount University, where they’ve always stayed, wasn’t open to visitors.)
Sue noted that it was a lot harder to garner excitement about the trip. She attributes this to not having a “trickle down” of excitement from upperclassmen. The graduating class this year was the last grade to go on the trip.
This year, the plans haven’t changed much. They’ll begin their ten-hour bus ride at 6:30 the night of Monday, June 6, and return back to U32 in the early hours of the following Saturday. They’ll still have all of the fun past grades have had exploring DC’s museums, monuments, and shopping centers, as well as attending shows and eating out.
“I’m super excited to go,” said Sue. “I’m excited to take this group of kids. This is like the first normal year that they’ve had in three years.”