On Tuesday, April 24th, 2018, three students and two faculty members from Takoda Prep experienced the field trip of a lifetime. Along with a chartered plane of over 200 young people and chaperones from Minnesota, the five traveled to Washington D.C. for a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). This impactful trip was a culmination of a yearlong study of genocide, with a semester-long focus on the Holocaust specifically.
Organized by Tolerance Minnesota and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), the trip is a one-day whirlwind that takes place every year. Once the Takoda Prep faculty found out about this opportunity, they did not hesitate to jump aboard.
Before the school year started, English teacher Christy Hicks and social studies teacher Tom Lonetti both attended the Belfer National Conference for Educators at USHMM, a special conference where teachers are primed to lead students in Holocaust studies and an attempt to answer the big question: “How and why did the Holocaust happen?” The two teachers felt especially connected to teach this topic, as it seemed a poignant framework for future studies about the Native American genocide.
After attending the conference, they planned the yearlong study of the Holocaust, the crisis in Syrian, as well as various other genocides. Throughout the year, the students dug deeper and deeper into these topics. It was difficult at times, though it was extremely impressive how respectful they were of the content and how quick they were to make connections between the events and their own historical trauma. Students who were particularly interested in the subject matter were invited to apply for the field trip to Washington D.C. Three students were chosen, and their journey began in the wee hours of the morning at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.
After a short plane ride and a lot of waiting, they entered the museum. The field trip is set up so the students can experience the exhibits self-guided. The museum is a massive one, with an incredible amount of information on display. Students lingered in front of placards reading stories they learned earlier in the year, but also finding out new information along the way. One of the most impactful sections, of course, is the display of shoes. “Some of the thousands of shoes confiscated from arriving prisoners at the Majdanek concentration camp” (USHMM.org). This moving display is one of the most difficult moments of the museum, as it is so visceral and raw. They finished their tour in the Hall of Remembrance and lit a candle for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust.
The group then walked down the National Mall, taking in the beautiful architecture and vast history, politics, and people that Washington D.C. represents. The next stop – the café at the National Museum of the American Indian. Mitsitam features various cuisines of tribes around the Americas. No surprises – the Ojibwe, Ho Chunk, and Lakota students all chose bison burgers and chili from the Great Plains section!
After resting their feet and enjoying the delicious food, the group met Martin Earring, a docent for the museum, for a private tour. The vast collection at the museum was a lot to take in, though Martin did an incredible job of pointing out some of his favorite exhibits. The students particularly loved seeing their own tribes represented in such an important place. One particularly poignant exhibit was on treaties. This rotating exhibit brings in the actual original documents of treaties between tribes and the U.S. government. Decisions, signatures (or sometimes, just x’s), and declarations were on view for the students to begin to understand more about their histories. The opportunity to view these artifacts is so monumental for students who often only learn about the “founding fathers” in U.S. History class textbooks.
After a final stop at the National Air and Space museum, the group moseyed back to USHMM to be picked up by their bus. The long day culminated with a quiet plane ride back to MSP. This one-day field trip was just what the students needed – accessibility to the histories, the chance to sightsee our nation’s capitol, and a reflective day of learning. The Takoda Prep faculty is particularly grateful to Tolerance Minnesota and the JCRC for providing them with the opportunity to attend this. The hope is that next year, the school can return for another memorable one-day field trip.