Capital Capstone

School News
May 2, 2018- Each spring, as a part of their history studies, eighth graders visit Washington, D.C to explore the workings of our present-day government and the monuments to our nation's history that led us to this point. And If they are lucky, the trip also coincides with the iconic display of cherry tree blossoms, which perhaps parallels their growth as students and individuals as they prepare to branch out and reach skyward during the final phase of their VMS education in upper school.

Preparation for this trip takes place over the course of the three weeks prior to their departure when history class is focused on learning about the 115th Congress, and researching a specific location in Washington and writing an essay about its importance. On site, the students and their essays provide narration for a tour of the city that encompasses more than forty different stops in five days. For an abbreviated version, check out the photos below captured by the VMS teachers who accompanied the group, and by budding 8th grade photographer, Wells Gillette.


Student Work

If you’d like to dive deeper, examples of student essays, reflections, and a digital presentation about the 115th Congress are shared below as illustrations of the four primary learning targets and goals for the trip. 

Learning Target 1

Visiting the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., is an essential step in building capacity to take part in civic life.
  • I can identify some important ideals, e.g. liberty and justice, an informed citizenry, civic virtue, respect for others.
  • I can describe how visiting Washington, D.C. relates to the 10 themes of history.
Journal Excerpt by Cami Johnson
“I think that understanding the past is a great way to begin to comprehend the present and future. For example, Lincoln pushed against slavery because he knew it was wrong...Lincoln taught us to stand for what is right, even if you stand alone, an important lesson to carry into life in our country and world.”


Learning Target 2

Washington, D.C. is a city of monuments and memorials, where each year millions of people visit the National Mall and Memorial parks to commemorate presidential legacies, to honor our nation's veterans, to make their voices heard, and to celebrate our nation's commitment to freedom and equality.
  • I can identify significant monuments, memorials, and landmarks located in Washington D. C. and describe their importance.
Essay by Wells Gillette- Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery has an interesting history. In 1864, the Civil War had been going on for several years and Washington D.C. served as a hospital city for those who were injured in the war. 50,000 soldiers laid severely injured in the hospitals and many were dying, so they needed a place to bury them. Earlier in the war, National Cemeteries were established in Alexandria, Virginia and The Old Soldiers Home in northwest Washington. These places had planned to accommodate all of those who died in the Washington D.C. hospitals. However, since the war went on much longer than expected, more injuries and deaths than anticipated occurred. This caused the other cemeteries to fill up, requiring a need for new burial space. Around this time, the quartermaster officer of the Union Army looked across the river and saw Arlington, realizing it would be an acceptable destination for a cemetery. Today, Arlington National Cemetery is a great memorial to honor those who have served in every war, dating from the Civil War to present-day conflicts.

Before Arlington National Cemetery was in use, the land was the home of Robert E. Lee. The Arlington House was built in 1802 by Custis Washington, who was adopted by George Washington after his father died. When Custis died, he passed the house down to one of his only living daughters, Mary Lee. Mary Lee and her husband, Robert E. Lee, lived in the Arlington House with their seven children. Mary Lee buried her parents in the backyard of the house, giving the house sentimental value. In 1864, Congress needed a Union burial ground to be created and this task fell on Quartermaster General, Montgomery Meigs. Meigs was the former classmate of Robert E. Lee and they never got along. Montgomery Meigs hated the Confederacy and saw Lee as a traitor because he was the commander of the Confederate army of the Civil War. Meigs thought of the idea to turn Lee’s home into the new burial ground. His idea would not only solve the problem of finding a burial ground, but it would also punish Robert E. Lee. After the Federal Government fought with the Lee family to gain control of their property, they were forced to move out of their home and they never lived there again. Not only did the Civil War create a bigger cemetery but it also laid the foundation for the Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery honors those who have served our nation by providing a sense of beauty and peace for the guests. The green, grassy, rolling hills are covered in one hundred-year-old trees and gardens that are spread throughout 624 acres of the cemetery. 400,000 soldiers lay alongside their family members, each with a tombstone. During the war, there wasn't much time for the making of tombstones so they had to use headboards. Today there are tombstones that are made out of white marble, with their name, the date of birth and the date of burial. When looking at the cemetery the tombstones are always in a straight line from wherever you are looking. The many monuments can also be spotted around the cemetery. These monuments include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Arlington House and many more. The cemetery has made great changes over the years to make Arlington National Cemetery a beautiful place.

Along with the history and architecture of Arlington National Cemetery, there are many aspects that make the cemetery different from all of the others. Arlington National Cemetary is the only national cemetery to hold servicemen from every war in U.S. history and was used to host the first national Memorial Day commemoration in 1868. The cemetery conducts about twenty-seven to thirty services each weekday and between six and eight services each Saturday. Many great soldiers are buried in the cemetery as well as two U.S. Presidents, William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy. More than 3,000 ceremonies and memorial services take place at the cemetery each year that include Memorial Day and Veterans Day, which are held at the Memorial Amphitheater. When the Civil War ended, 600,000 soldiers lost their lives and ten percent of the country's population was dead. Today, more than half of the soldiers are buried in the cemetery and the union officers who chose to be buried with their men, rather than in their hometowns are all in the cemetery too.

Arlington National Cemetery was transformed from a potter's field to one of the most respected American landmarks in the world. Today, Arlington National Cemetery is a great memorial to honor those who have served in every war, from the Civil War to present-day conflicts. The cemetery has come a long way and has made major changes from becoming the home of Robert E. Lee to a living tribute to our Nation’s past. Arlington continues to thrive and honor the service and sacrifice to those who were and are willing to dedicate their lives to fight for our country.


Learning Target 3

Museums in Washington, D.C. encompass institutions (including non-profit organizations, government entities, and private businesses) that collect and care for objects of cultural, artistic, scientific, or historical interest, and that make their collections or related exhibits available for public viewing.
  • I can identify significant museums located in Washington, D.C. and describe their importance.
Journal Excerpt by Emmie Urquhart- The Holocaust Museum and The National Archives
“Both the Holocaust Museum and the National Archives are extremely important parts of Washington, D.C. The Holocaust Museum is important because it makes us remember and reflect on this terrible period of history. This Museum causes us to never forget and reminds us to not make the same mistakes in the future that we made in the past. The National Archives holds the documents that our government was built off of. This is important because it allows us to remember the foundations and thoughts that our government today was built on. The National Archives protects and stores the documents that built our nation.”


Learning Target 4

Recognizable by the iconic U.S. Capitol Building, “The Hill” is where the business of Washington happens.
  • I can explain major ideas about why government is necessary.
  • I can identify the major landmarks of Capitol Hill.
  • I can list Colorado Representatives who work on Capitol Hill and describe their roles.
Prezi by Wells Gillette & Gaby Gish- The 115th Congress
This interactive presentation was created by students as a primer for a visit to the Capitol Building and specifically in preparation for time that the students spent with Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. It includes an overview of Colorado’s representation in Congress, an analysis of a Bill, a look at the balance of power between the two different political parties, and examples of major issues being tackled by the 115th Congress.

PREZI: 115th Congress


Extra Credit: Instagram

Steph Lewis, one of our esteemed faculty members, took over the school’s Instagram feed while the eighth graders were in D.C. The story she created has been saved as a “highlight” on the school’s Instagram page (@vailmountainschool). Please note that this can only be accessed using the Instagram app on a mobile phone or tablet. If you’d like help finding it, or getting set up on Instagram, please contact James Mill at