I was lucky enough to be selected for a Driven 2 Teach trip this year. This is a program created and sponsored by Larry H. Miller and Zions Bank. In order to go you must be a teacher of American history. Now that I teach fifth grade, that applies to me! Teaching history has actually been my favorite part of fifth grade! It is so much more exciting than the first grade version of social studies which is all about communities. The idea behind the Driven 2 Teach program is that by taking teachers to actually see and experience the history first hand, they will be able to teach it better and instill a passion for the founding principles of America in Utah students.
I was really brave and decided to apply for this trip even though I didn't know anyone going. Luckily I met three fun fifth grade teachers from Santaquin that adopted me into their group. I had a really great time exploring the sites with them!
The trip started out with a red eye flight to New York. Of course, I was assigned a middle seat between two very large people, so I didn't get much rest on the flight. When we got to New York, the fast paced lifestyle began. We were given a small window of time to grab breakfast and be on the bus. It was a really rainy, overcast day which made for a somewhat chaotic morning. The first thing we did was visit the Federal Reserve in New York City. It was an interesting place. I learned that the United States keeps a lot of money there for other countries so that it will be safe and that they do it for free as an act of good will. Then we headed to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I was really excited to experience this because it is one piece of history that I actually lived through.
Where the towers once stood, there are now two waterfalls. The names of the victims surround the waterfalls.
Inside the museum, there are many artifacts that were collected in the clean up process. These really bring to the life the destruction of that day.
The museum is also a place of hope and story of how tragedy united our country.
After that we headed to China Town for lunch. We all ended up eating at a restaurant, family style. It wasn't the greatest food I've ever had or the cleanest place I've ever been, but I was happy to embrace the New York experience.
Then we rushed (literally we rushed everywhere) to the Tenement Museum. This was pretty cool because it gave you a feel of how New York City began and why it is home to such a variety of cultures.
The next stop was a nice change of pace. We went to Central Park. It was amazing to find this place that was so calm, quiet, and not crowded inside of a huge city.
Quite the opposite of this... found only blocks away.
Although I was completely exhausted, we ventured out to Times Square that evening. Holy lights! It is literally so bright there even in the middle of the night. I couldn't believe all the hustle and bustle of that area, regardless of the time. Probably the coolest store we went into was the Toys R Us store. It was huge and filled with fun stuff!
After hardly any sleep at all, we were up again and headed out of the hotel in a rush. Our leaders would seriously say that if you weren't at our meeting spots at a certain time, you would be left. I had a constant fear the entire trip that I would be lost and alone in New York City. Anyway, I had my first experience riding the Subway. What a crazy place! I have literally never been anywhere where people are everywhere and in such a hurry.
We went to Liberty and Ellis Islands. These were both really cool places. Of course, it's kind of a bucket list item to see the Statue of Liberty so I was glad I got to go there.
At Ellis Island we got a rare tour that few people have had before. We got to visit the south side of the island that is not open to the public. This is where people who were too sick to enter the country were kept until they either died or recovered. We toured the facilities where they lived. It was a really unique, but also sort of spiritual experience.
At this staircase the immigrants were separated into three groups: those being admitted into the country, those who were headed to the south side due to illness, and those who were sent back to where they came from. There was actually only a very small percentage who were sent back.
This is the south side of Ellis Island.
Tuberculosis patients had two sinks in their rooms, one for spitting and one for washing.
After this, we headed back to the city. We briefly visited Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Once again, we rushed back to our hotel to change, eat dinner, and see Wicked on Broadway. The show was amazing. I had a great time, despite the fact that I was fighting off closing eyelids.
Still, the night was not done. We made one last stop at the Empire State Building. I would not recommend going up if you visit because it is expensive and crowded. It's cool enough to just look at and imagine the view.
Day 3. That's right, all of the above was done in just two days with about eight hours of total sleep. We then headed to the Alexander Hamilton home and after that was a home that George Washington occupied for a time during the American Revolution. The floors in the home are original so I actually walked where George Washington walked.
After that we took a lengthy (and welcome) drive to West Point Military Academy. This has got to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The weather we had in New York was overcast and rainy the whole time which is my favorite type of weather. It made everywhere we went so much more beautiful. We stayed at a really fancy hotel that presidents stay in when visiting West Point.
The next day we drove to Morristown, New Jersey. Although Valley Forge gets a lot of hype, the worst winter of the American Revolution was spent at Morristown. We hiked all around here and got a feel for the geography and how it made for such a bad winter. This was another beautiful place with a very peaceful and sacred spirit.
After that we headed for the Delaware River to see Washington's famous crossing. Although we crossed the opposite way of Washington by going from New Jersey to New York, it was really cool to see this place where Washington's several crossings led to a turning point in the American Revolution.
That night we drove to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We finally had a chance to relax, eat a good dinner, and walk around the area surrounding our hotel for a bit. The next morning we were off. We started at the National Constitution Center. This museum has done a really great job of showing how the Constitution is still relevant in a modern world. I even got to mingle with some of the signers! After this I had my first Philly Cheese Steak sandwich. Definitely not impressed.
Of course, equally important in Philadelphia is Independence Hall which is right across the street. We went there twice. The second time we got a private tour with some period actors which was really cool. We also sang "My Country Tis of Thee" in the room where the Declaration was voted on and signed. Another really cool and spiritual experience.
The next morning we heading to downtown Philedelphia and saw many things. We saw the famous (and underwhelming) Love statue, a beautiful Catholic Cathedral, a Masonic Temple, and even the construction of a new LDS temple. We also went to the famous Rocky stairs. I was totally lame and did not run them, but I have honestly never been more exhausted in my life!
That afternoon we had some free time. Our group decided to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. This is no longer operational but was home to many notorious convicts, including Al Capone. This is a place I could have spent a whole day at. The history here is so interesting as well as all the people who spent time here.
Al Capone's Cell
That evening we saw the Liberty Bell, had a fun period dinner and show at The Tavern, and walked around Historic Philadelphia some more.
The next morning we drove to Valley Forge. It is a large area that is also beautiful. The home is where Washington lived at Valley Forge. The banister is original to the home, so once again I touched something Washington did!
We rushed straight from Valley Forge to the airport. We took two flights to get home. I was so excited to see my boys when I arrived. While it was nice to have a break from day to day life, I really missed them. I'm also really grateful to my mom who watched Dawson all week while I was gone. Of course, I'm thankful to the Miller family and Zion's Bank for providing me with this all expenses paid opportunity. I truly learned so much on this trip. I gained a deeper appreciation for our country's beginning and I will never forget the spirit of the places I visited.