I’ve been waiting for my life to calm down and my brain to stop spinning before I blogged about my amazing (CRAZY) experience at the White House. For those of you that follow me on Twitter, I was never short of updates and photos from that special day, sorry for flooding your feed. I know I am breaking all the blogger-rules here with an extravagantly long entry, but I have to document this, if only for myself to read later. I never want to forget the excitement, the nerves, the appreciation of that day. With that being said, let me recap the day for you and start at the beginning…
TWO WEEKS AGO:
I was browsing Twitter during my planning period and ran across a tweet from the United States Department of Education. The link was an application for an opportunity to sit down with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and lifelong educator, Dr. Jill Biden. The opportunity was a White House Social, which is an effort made by the Obama administration and the White House to connect citizens with policy makers and influential administration officials and give you a way to ask questions and voice your opinions on issues that matter the most. Honestly, I did not think twice about filling out an application…
I did, however, think twice about telling anyone. Currently the USDOE has a following of 364,000 people. I couldn’t really imagine anyone passing up an opportunity to talk to such influential people and I never thought in a million years that I would actually be selected. I was way to embarrassed to tell anyone, even my husband, much LESS ask permission from my principal and iron out details in case I was selected. Psh. Whatever.
FIVE DAYS BEFORE THE WHITE HOUSE SOCIAL:
I got the email that I was, in fact, selected to attend this White House Social along with 19 other educators from across the country on Thursday night. I swear I thought it was a scam. Before the aforementioned tweet, I had never heard of White House Socials before and thought surely this email notifying me of my “selection” was a scam. I called my cousin and we brainstormed what they were going to try to “sell me.” I forwarded the email to my principal, asking him if he thought this was real…he took it more seriously than I did. Once I emailed the White House correspondent that notified me, I quickly realized that it wasn’t a scam …and this was actually my life. What?!
My principal spent the entire day Friday arranging my travel. (My goodness how I appreciate that man!) Unfortunately on such short notice, I had to fly out at 5:45 AM and back home at 8PM the same day. I didn’t care. I was going to the White House!
By the end of the school day on Friday, Hardin County Schools had released a “press release” (what??) and I was getting emails from administrators in the district congratulating me on being selected. I appreciated the support but having a press release written about me was completely uncomfortable!
I was checking out at IGA, buying some groceries, and my cell phone rang and it was the local radio station requesting an audio interview. Weird, awkward, completely uncomfortable but so cool! I realized that the media coverage gave me an opportunity to talk about my passion for educational technology and raise awareness for authentic environments for relevant instruction through social media. Pumped would be an understatement.
Naturally, I called my family and told them to listen to the radio on Monday. 🙂
THREE DAYS BEFORE WHITE HOUSE SOCIAL:
Monday morning was a regular morning for me. I contemplated wearing black jeans and pretending they were dress pants. You know, the usual. Thankfully I decided against that. I always feel too guilty breaking the rules. By the end of 2nd period, I received a call that WDRB (local news station) was on their way to do an interview in my class about my upcoming trip. Wait, what? Shortly thereafter, WLKY (another local news station) was headed my way. (Good thing I went against wearing those jeans, eh?) I’ve never done a TV interview before, so that was an experience in itself. Everything turned out fine and watching myself on TV was super weird. I was, however, excited for my children to see Mommy on TV. They, however, screamed 45 out of the 90 second interview because I made them come inside to watch me on TV (#fail).
Tuesday, Wave3 (yet another local news station) showed up for an interview. Trying to teach students whilst moving cameramen, reporters and assistant principals is no easy task. ESPECIALLY when they are interviewing you on the ONE day a quarter where I let students “record” their PSA’s. Most chaotic day of the entire quarter is now documented for all of central Kentucky. Awesome.
I am so proud to be a part of Hardin County Schools. The work we (as a staff) are doing to help our children succeed, I believe, is groundbreaking. Even though I didn’t grow up in Hardin County, I am proud to teach here. Representing Kentucky and Hardin County Schools at the White House makes my heart burst with pride.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 7: THE WHITE HOUSE SOCIAL
Arrived at Louisville International Airport: 4:15 AM
Departed Louisville to Charlotte: 5:45 AM
Changed planes in Charlotte and departed for DC: 7:35 AM
Landed at Reagan International Airport: 8:38 AM
Taxi arrived at 15th & Pennsylvania Avenue: 9:45 AM
Let me speak for a moment about a few things. This experience could have been a reality show entitled, “Country Girl Goes to the Capitol.” In rural Kentucky, our street signs are simple. In our “big cities” our streets our laid out like a grid, the numbers make sense and are very simple to follow. Road signs in DC…I don’t even know where to start.
We had to “drop our bags” in order to tour the White House…At 15th and Pennsylvania. Seems simple, no? I asked some nice police officers if I was at, in fact, 15th and Pennsylvania. They said yes. It occurred to me later that these police officers, must not have been able to understand my country, Kentucky twang because I was definitely not at “15th & Pennsylvania.” More like 5 blocks away.
Nevertheless, I reached my destination, albeit a little late.
The White House Tour:
In case you didn’t know, I am a HUGE history nerd? I live 20 minutes from The Stephen Foster home, 12 minutes from Lincoln’s boyhood home and about 3 minutes from Lincoln’s birthplace. Every time I visit these locations, I am moved to tears. I have such a deep, profound appreciation for history that some people just don’t understand. (Read: my husband) When I entered the East Wing of the White House…I told the teachers I was with “I’m going to cry in about 2 minutes. Please don’t judge me.”
TO WHICH THEY RESPONDED, “HEY WE GOT TO THE WHITE HOUSE VIA TWITTER. NO ONE THINKS YOU’RE WEIRD.”
I could feel the history in the room. I imagined the conversations that took place there. The presidents (including my beloved Lincoln) that had been mourned in those rooms. The decisions that had been made …in those rooms…that shaped our great nation. I cried like a baby by the time I reached the end of the foyer. It was an amazing experience. Added bonus: we got to see Marine One land on the South Lawn to take President Obama to Arkansas. Pretty cool!
The Eisenhower Executive Office Building:
After exiting the White House we traveled to the EEOB for our social. The architecture in this building was amazing. So intricate. The room in which we met was the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office, which had a desk that had been signed by several former Vice Presidents.
Our first special guest was US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Secretary Duncan was very kind and personable. He came around the table and shook all of our hands and introduced himself to us. His schedule was extremely tight but he was able to spend quite a bit of time with us. He talked about some of his accomplishments that he most proud of but he always came back to things that he “still needed to do.” Hearing from influential policymakers first hand was an incredible experience that I will never forget. It helped me realize that I want to be part of the change in, what I believe, is the best profession in the world.
The meet and greet with Dr. Jill Biden was my favorite part of the day. She is currently my favorite person in the White House. She is easy to talk to and extremely kind. As we were waiting for our photo op in her office, she took the time to ask us each a little about ourselves and where and what we taught.
We had lunch with her and chatted about some of her projects that she is most passionate about. (College and Career Readiness being one of her top priorities!)
After meeting with Dr. Biden, it was announced we would get a special treat: a tour of the South Lawn and White House Kitchen Garden. Assistant Pastry Chef, Susan gave us a tour and explained the importance of the garden to the WH kitchen staff and Mrs. Obama. We toured the compost and beehive also.
The day was a HUGE success and a day that I will treasure forever. When I hear my students say “I really want to…..but I probably won’t ever…” I have a personal story to share with them to show them that “Yes they can!” (Pun intended). Why yes, dear student, your chances may seem unlikely and you may not have confidence in your abilities…