Thursday, February 20 - Washington D.C.
We started the day at the World War II Memorial. It is a memorial honoring the lives sacrificed for America's freedom and justice during the Second World War. The memorial's center caves inward to create a large pond that was empty due to the snow. This area offered a spectacular view of the Washington Monument and the mall. Gold stars were displayed across the marble to represent the lives sacrificed in the war.
We then visited the beautiful Supreme Court building. We had a special tour of the courtroom, and got to see two areas of the building hardly anyone else sees except the people who work there- the preparation room for the lawyers arguing before the Supreme Court, as well as the library in the Supreme Court building.
At the Capitol building, we first went into a theater and watched a short film about the beginning of lawmaking in the U.S. Then we went on a tour of the building. We saw statues of important political figures, a wall painting that took nearly 100 years to finish, the room that used to house the Supreme Court, and John Quincy Adams' old desk.
After lunch we were set free to explore the Newseum, a museum about journalism, film and media. We could pose as Ron Burgundy on his news set from Anchorman and act as TV reporters. We were also able to solve cases as journalists and explore media from the people and news today.
The last place we visited, the Spy Museum, was very enlightening. There was a special James Bond exhibit commemorating the 50 years of the movie franchise. We got to test our endurance by hanging as long as we could from a moving bar, as though hanging off the edge of a building. Overall, we learned that spies aren't as glamorous as the movies make them out to be. It was a great experience.
Our first encounter with Chinatown this evening was eating at a TexMex restaurant. Then we were given time to walk around the neighborhood, most of us shopping. We then walked to some stone steps where everyone had fun talking with their friends while waiting for the bus. Overall, it was fun!
Tomorrow we are off to meet with former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and visit the Holocaust Museum and some of the Smithsonian museums before we head back home!
-Reported by Coley, Hayley, Jeffrey, Asher, Sela, Sophia, Jenna, Neil, Brian, Nate, Greta, and Elijah
Thursday, February 20 - Costa Rica
After another good night's sleep -- half of the group started the day with a soccer game at 7:15. Our hotel is located in the center of a small village with a big green soccer field right across the street and Nico was able to secure a ball and get a game going for everyone. It was great to see and hear the students playing soccer and enjoying themselves before breakfast. The chef was kind enough to prepare pancakes and bacon for breakfast because he wanted them to have some familiar foods (and something other than the rice and beans that are provided at almost every meal). The kids were very happy about this and some even substituted grave jelly for syrup on their pancakes. Delicious!
We spent most of the day back at EARTH university again where we attended two workshops. In the first session, we toured the banana plantation and production plant. This plant is a commercial plant which employs local laborers and gives the university students opportunities to work in a large plant. Profits from this operation go right back into the school, providing financial aid to the students. We saw the entire operation, from the banana shrubs, to the large conveyor system used to bring the bananas into the packing plant, and the sorting and packing of bananas (many of which are sent to Whole Foods back at home!). Students also learned about the structure and reproduction of the plants, the diseases and pesticides that affect the bananas, and best practices for providing humane conditions for laborers. The second workshop was an examination of recycling and ways to reuse recycled materials. We also watched a video about the what could happen if recycling is not a national priority - taking a close look at the landfills of Guatemala City.
The guides that we have had at EARTH university are college students from all over the world. We have met students from Nigeria, Uganda, Costa Rica, Haiti, and El Salvador - all of whom are genuinely excited about what they are learning in this amazing school, and who we have no doubt will go back to their countries of origin to spread the knowledge they have gained about eco-friendly and sustainable farming and livestock practices.
We are now back at the hotel and settling in for the evening. We will provide the students with a few activites before and after dinner, and we made a very stealthy stop at a bakery on the way home to get a cake for birthday girl K.C. for dessert! We continue to be impressed with all of your children. It has been a pleasure to chaperone them all on this trip so far!
- Ann-Marie, Eryn, and Tammy
Wednesday, February 19 - Washington D.C.
This morning we had to wake up very early, and it seemed even earlier because we were still on LA time. We boarded the bus and we were on our way to the White House. Despite the pouring rain, we saw Michelle Obama's garden and took pictures outside the White House, which was smaller than we thought, although very pretty.
We then took an exclusive trip to the State Department. We got to see many interesting artifacts on the top floor in the diplomatic rooms, including one of the last copies of the Constitution and the desk Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence on. There were many different busts and paintings of famous diplomatic figures. At the main entrance to the State Department, where important international leaders enter the building, there were flags from all 186 nations that the U.S. has official relationships with.
We also had a special meeting with the former governor of Michigan and former U.S. Ambassador to Canada, James Blanchard. He talked with us about how he came to have a love for history and politics, and what his years growing up were like. We got a chance to ask him a number of questions, including ones about leadership and his time as governor, as well as ones about more controversial issues, such as marijuana legalization and immigration reform. Governor Blanchard answered everything honestly and with humor.
After lunch, we visited Arlington National Cemetery, which was very interesting. We saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched three soldiers march and enact the ritual changing of the guards. Besides this, we saw the beautiful landscape and gravestones of many passed soldiers. The last thing we saw was a soldier taking a horse to be part of a funeral procession. In the stirrups were boots turned backwards, symbolizing a lost soldier.
Lastly, we went to Mount Vernon, George Washington's house. We thought it was very interesting that he was the only president not to live in the White House, because it hadn't been built yet. When Mount Vernon itself was first built, it was much smaller, but was then added to over the years. The house had a pretty view, as it is next to a river that separates two states, Virginia and Maryland. Also, everything in the house was extremely colorful.
-Reported by Cayla, Elyse, Eli, Ben, Shareef, Nick, Griff, Tyler, Emma, Nataliya, and Millie
Wednesday, February 19 - Costa Rica
Today we woke up refreshed after an 8:30 lights out and bedtime! We had a leisurely start with breakfast at 8:00 and made our way through banana, hearts of palm, and pineapple plantations. We have come to realize that our bus driver, Luis, is an expert at spotting wildlife in it's natural habitat. En route we stopped to see a troop of Howler monkeys, both two toed and three toed sloths, and watched as the vultures flew above. Chris, our tour guide has been filling us in about the indigenous Costa Ricans, local industries, and current politics. We have been so lucky be guided by the team of Chris and Luis who have been working together for 25 years.
Because the students have been so engaged and eager to learn, Chris decided to take us to a fruit market that was located along the road. There, the students gathered around Chris as he introduced new and unusual fruits - spiky, colorful, and fragrant. The owners cut the fruit up for us and the students were quite adventurous! By the time we left, students had decided to buy bags of fruits and were happily getting onto the bus with this new experience under their belts.
After this surprise cultural stop we were off to EARTH university. EARTH University is an amazing 4 year university that practically hand picks young people from every corner of the world to teach them about best practices in sustainability, eco friendly farming, and the ethical treatment of animals. In the first workshop we fed the pigs, saw their piglets, brushed the young water buffalo, tilled grass to feed the cattle, and toured the completely self contained water treatment system. We learned about the production and uses of methane gas and compost from both the solid and liquid waste, and other amazing benefits of ethical and sustainable practices in farming and agriculture. In the second workshop, we learned about different ways to build garden beds in tight spaces and in the absence of good soil. The students then actually made their own hanging gardens. The lunch that we ate at EARTH was, of course, mostly generated from the campus itself.
And so, we headed back to our Hotel El Bambu to have dinner, have a swim, grab some ice cream and get ready for another day at EARTH University. The students continue to impress us with their enthusiasm, patience, and good behavior. Costa Rica certainly lacks many of the creature comforts that we are all used to, but we really haven't had any complaints from them!
Ann-Marie, Eryn and Tammy
Tuesday, February 18 - Washington D.C.
When we arrived at the Los Angeles airport at 6 AM Tuesday morning, there was a huge line to check our bags. It turned out that the United Airlines computer system was broken and we were delayed. By the time all of us made it to the gates, they were already boarding, but luckily we got on before the plane left us behind. The DC airport was much less hectic, but one student's bag wasn't at the airport and was delivered to the hotel at 3 AM.
As soon as we left the airport, we went to Union Station. Union Station is not only a train station, but also a mall, and located near the Capitol. After eating dinner in the HUGE food court, we came upon a large clock. Our tour guide, Mariah, told us to find something "different" around the clock's features. After observing the clock for a few minutes, we found out that the Roman numerals for the fourth hour on the clock were different from what they would be today. Overall we had a very interesting experience as our first stop in DC.
On Tuesday evening, we went on a night walk to many memorials, including the Lincoln and the Martin Luther King Memorial. The Lincoln Memorial had a giant statue of Abraham Lincoln and featured two of his most famous speeches on either side.
The FDR Memorial was very interesting. There were four rooms that each expressed one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's four terms as president, and each room had a fountain that conveyed the feel of his specific term. After chilly jaunt down by the waterfront (which was frozen), we arrived at the MLK Memorial. The memorial was created to the likeness of MLK's famous quote, "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." The memorial is made of two mountains of rock and cut out between them is a bas-relief of MLK. The statue of MLK is surrounded by two walls engraved with his quotations, which were interesting to read.
-Reported by Lauren, Rachel, Sydney, Serena, Drew, Alex, Jeremiah, and Connor
Tuesday, February 18 - Costa Rica
Pura Vida from Costa Rica!
We made it to Costa Rica and have already had an adventure packed day! We have a fantastic tour guide named Chris, who the students and teachers warmed to immediately. From the airport we went to Inbioparque, a nature reserve where we were able to see representations of both the wet (humid) and dry forests of Costa Rica. We were able to have a nice breakfast, learn about the amazing biodiversity of Costa Rica, and see everything from sloths to butterflies, crocodiles to tarantulas, and giant iguanas.
From there we stopped at a typical grocery store to grab some snacks and drinks and we made our way to a lunch spot where we had rice and beans, plantains, potatoes, and freshly made strawberry, pineapple, and papaya juice. We continued up, gaining 9,000 feet of elevation, into the the clouds and up to the top of Poas volcano. Unfortunately, the clouds were so thick that we couldn't see much of the mile wide crater, but the students took it in stride and enjoyed the hike up which was chilly, misty and lined with bromeliads.
On the way to our final destination today, El Bambu Hotel, we even saw a toucan in a tree and one of the most breathtaking rainbows anybody on the bus had ever seen! We are now here at the hotel, which the first time we've had any internet access since we left Los Angeles.
Considering the amount of sleep they got and the early start to the day, the students have been wonderful. We hear lots of "Pleases" and "Thank Yous" and they have been flexible and in good humor so far. They have represented all of you and Windward very well!
Tomorrow we will head to EARTH University, where we will spend the majority of the day. We will do our best to keep you updated most days, but wanted to be sure to give you all a good description of what we are up to down here. The Internet is currently down at the hotel, but we found a hotspot device to send this e-mail. Don't be alarmed if you are not hearing from your son or daughter. They hope to have the wifi up tomorrow.
Ann-Marie, Eryn and Tammy
Thursday, February 21
Today we visited the White House and had a blast! The grand house was filled with gorgeous chandeliers and years of history. Inside there was intricate architecture, as well as sandstone on the outside that lasted through a fire during the War of 1812. We are so grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We also visited the Holocaust Museum, which expanded our knowledge of genocide immensely. It made us realize how bad things really were during the Holocaust. Its prison-like stone walls created a sense of foreboding from the minute we arrived. From the rise of Hitler to the liberation of the Jewish people, the museum taught us the awfulness of and the consequences of committing such acts.
Next we went to two of the Smithsonian museums, which are free and open to the public. The Air and Space Museum was one of our very favorite places. The best part was the flight simulators. Even though it cost seven to eight dollars, it was very realistic and fun. It was fun because it actually felt like we were flying a real plane!
In the afternoon, we headed to the Capitol Building for an exclusive guided tour. We examined the architecture of the various rooms and the statues provided by each state. The oil painting in the center of the dome was breathtaking and the historical timeline around its bottom beautifully exemplified moments from Columbus' arrival to the end of the Civil War. In addition, we visited the original House of Representatives' chamber, where slavery was debated for many years. Going to the nation's Capitol building was an extremely memorable experience for all who attended and something we will never forget.
We ended the day with a nightime visit to the Lincoln Memorial. At its center is a very fascinating, well-made sculpture of Lincoln. It is made of nineteen different pieces of marble that are put together like a puzzle. It really captures the size of the impact that Lincoln had on our country.
-reported by Ali, Amanda, Sara, Charlie, Davis, Jon, Aaron, Jake T., Bobby, Abe and Nick
Wednesday, February 20
We started the day with a tour of the Supreme Court building. The Supreme Court library is packed with over 600,000 books that the justices refer to when researching cases and their decisions. The librarians are supposedly better at finding information than Google's search engine! Sitting in the main central area of the building is a large sculpture of John Marshall. It is said to be good luck for attorneys to rub his foot before a case. Overall, the Supreme Court building is beautiful and surprisingly only took five years to build!
We then entered the actual courtroom to hear the day's oral arguments. When we first entered the room and saw the nine powerful and influential justices, we were in awe. Each argument was not long, and the lawyers were constantly interrupted by questions from the justices. Some of the discussions were quite complicated and hard to follow. Despite these difficulties, it was an amazing experience, as seeing the Supreme Court in action is not an everyday occurrence.
Part of our adventure to the Supreme Court building included a special meeting with Chief Justice John Roberts. We had a question and answer session with him, where we were able to ask him about his life experiences and for his advice. Chief Justice Roberts enlightened us on all aspects of the Supreme Court and his role as a justice and, especially, as Chief Justice. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
We ended the day at Arlington Cemetery, where we learned that there are a shocking 400,000 citizens buried there. The cemetery is on 647 acres of land with beautiful panoramic views of D.C. It was extremely sentimental when we spent a moment of silence looking at Kennedy's grave. The changing of the guards was awesome to watch. Although it was cold walking around Arlington, it was an incredible experience.
-reported by Remi, Stella, Esra, Robbie, Dexter, Jake S., Raquel, Andrea, Caida, Will and Harrison L.
Tuesday, February 19
As we landed at Dulles Airport after a five hour flight from LAX, we were welcomed by a fresh winter chill. We boarded a tour bus that took us through the city, showcasing some of the most famous monuments and memorials of D.C. We ended up at Union Station, the main train station in Washington, for dinch (combination dinner/lunch).
At night, we took a tour of some memorials. First, we visited the Jefferson memorial, a building based on the Pantheon, which houses a bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson. We learned what the symbols around him meant. At the FDR memorial, we went backwards through time, seeing the hardships and triumphs in FDR's years in office. When we arrived at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, we made note of the symbolism the artist used in the depiction of King, and we all took pictures of our favorite King quotations.
-reported by Lucy, Olivia, Shierra, Harrison O., Finley and Josh