Y.E. Smith students take D.C.


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As Donald visited a Wright brothers exhibit, he made an important realization.

Donald, a fifth-grader at Y.E. Smith Elementary School, learned the Wright brothers invented a lot of things before finally making the world’s first successful airplane. The exhibit quickly became his favorite part of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Samantha Cole, a staff member of the East Durham Children’s Initiative, said she hopes the trip inspires the students in the long-term. One of her goals is to teach them that achievement stems from education.

Samantha Cole, a staff member of the East Durham Children’s Initiative, said she hopes the trip inspires the students in the long-term. One of her goals is to teach them that achievement stems from education. (Staff photo by Caitlin Owens)

Samantha Cole knows this because she supervised him as he blogged about it afterward.

“He said it helped him realize you have to build a lot of small things before you can build something big,” Cole said. “It resonated with me because it’s ultimately an allegory for our work.”

Donald was one of 14 Y.E. Smith students who went on a two-night field trip to Washington, D.C., from March 12-14. Michelle Obama herself invited the students to the White House, providing the idea for the trip. The children met her when she visited Durham in October.

The East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI) organized the trip. Cole, EDCI’s communications coordinator, was one of six adults who chaperoned the children, all third- through fifth-graders.

EDCI, a nonprofit organization, works primarily in Y.E. Smith to provide a “pipeline of services” to prepare children for college or a career, said David Reese, EDCI’s president. Its target area includes 120 blocks in East Durham.

Although it focuses on early childhood and elementary school, EDCI also has a presence in Neal Middle School and Southern High School. (See previous VOICE coverage of EDCI).

“From a public school perspective, this is a true neighborhood approach,” Reese said.

Durham Public Schools selected Y.E. Smith to send students to greet the first lady at the airport when she visited Durham, said Darlene Escudero, vice principal of Y.E. Smith. They quickly chose 14 students based on character, behavior and school performance.

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Imani Battle, a third-grader, feels inspired after reading children’s letters to former presidents in the National Archives. She plans to write her own letter to the president. (Staff photo by Caitlin Owens)

These students met with Michelle Obama for 20 minutes in an airport room. One student asked her when they could visit the White House. She responded with an invitation.

A few months later, the same 14 students boarded a charter bus headed for Washington. Although all White House tours had been canceled because of budget cuts, the group still had a packed agenda for the next couple of days.

The students were chaperoned by Cole, Escudero, Reese, two Y.E. Smith teachers and Barker French, the chairman of EDCI’s board of directors. In addition to the National Air and Space Museum, the group visited Mount Vernon, the National Archives and the national monuments.

“They really took all the moments in,” Escudero said, adding that the students were still talking about the trip at school a week later. “You can tell how impressionable the field trip was on them.”

Imani Battle, a third-grader, remembers many things about the trip. She remembers learning how corn used to be made in a bowl at Mount Vernon. She also recalls seeing letters written by children to former presidents at the National Archives. There, the students received a private tour.

While reading these letters to the president, Battle felt inspired.

Samantha Cole, a staff member of the East Durham Children’s Initiative, said she hopes the trip inspires the students in the long-term. One of her goals is to teach them that achievement stems from education.

Gaspar Gelani, a third-grader, says he wants to go back to Washington, D.C. He enjoyed many of the museum exhibits he saw, especially at the National Air and Space Museum. (Staff photo by Caitlin Owens)

She already has planned out what she wants her letter to say.

“Mine’s going to say, ‘Dear President Obama, I think that you’re the best president and I hope I get to become a president just like you,’” she said.

Although the National Archives collection includes the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, Battle was most excited about sitting at a large table in the office of the archivist of the United States.

“We sat down where the president sat down,” she said. “It felt special to us because I felt like I was a president, too.”

Gasper Gelani, also a third-grader, remembers the table as well.

“When I grow up, I want to be a boss, so I want to have one of those fancy tables,” he said.

Escudero felt the trip was important not only from an educational perspective, but also because it took the students out of their neighborhood.

“Our children need to be exposed to more than just what’s around them,” she said. “The more you expose yourself to other points of view, the more you understand what’s in front of you.”

Escudero said she has already seen changes in the students. She noticed a change in the motivation of one boy in particular, even a week after returning.

“Washington made an impression on him,” she said. “It could be a turning moment to help focus the path they want to go on.”

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The East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI) funded and organized a field trip to Washington, D.C., for 14 elementary school students. (Photo courtesy of EDCI)

 

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Chief investigative reporter for the Durham VOICE and UNC-Chapel Hill student. Contact the Durham VOICE staff at thedurhamvoice@gmail.com.


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