Citizenship Students’ Journey Through History

By:  Stefanie Moran and Emma Israel, Summer Citizenship Interns

Each session, the students of CARECEN’s citizenship classes get the chance to leave the classroom behind and have a day’s lesson exploring the nation’s capital. This time around, that opportunity landed on a 95 degree Saturday in June. But the prospect of a full day worth of walking in the sweltering heat didn’t deter the more than 30 students who came out to explore the monuments and the National Mall. After meeting our team of park ranger tour guides, the group learned the stories of the Vietnam Wall, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.

Students meet Park Ranger Mike Balis at Foggy Bottom Metro at the start of the day.

The group started their historical adventure at the Three Soldiers Statue, looking out over the names on the lost lives on the Vietnam Wall. Next, attention shifted to Abraham Lincoln, where students read the emancipation proclamation and learned about Lincoln’s efforts to abolish slavery. All were in awe when they saw the stories they had been learning in class come to life. The journey then led them to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, where the larger than life image of Dr. King served as a reminder of the fight for civil rights that was endured and continues today. Park Ranger Garcia, herself a daughter of Mexican immigrants, focused on the meaning the meaning of Dr. King’s iconic quote: “out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” The students expressed their gratitude for all of his endeavors, and how his work created the opportunity for their own experiences in this country.

Students learn about the Civil Rights Movement at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Finally, the group walked through the rooms that represent each of FDR’s four terms as president and the challenging context of his presidency. Park Ranger Mike Balis shared his father’s experience during that time and his deep appreciation for the president as the country navigated through the Great Depression and World War II. They learned how all across the country – in cities and the countryside – felt the hardship of the Depression. The students were stunned to learn that President Roosevelt had restored the United States’ relationship with Latin America, and that without the support of the region, victory could not have been achieved.

Some of the students at the FDR memorial after learning about his many accomplishments as President.

“Que bonita historia” exclaimed one student after every story, and all nodded and smiled in agreement. Despite many years living in Washington, most of the students had never explored the monuments before and were thrilled to see history come alive right in their backyards.

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