WASHINGTON — The history and culture and pure presence espoused by the birthplace of the world’s only surviving superpower is enough to inspire awe in almost anyone; it certainly did in me. I was a wide-eyed tourist on my first visit to the United States capital (to my students reading this for errors, capital with an “a” refers to the city of Washington, D.C., as a whole, while Capitol with an “o” refers to the Capitol Building where Congress is housed). That first trip, I took in all of the sights.
When I returned to the capital this fall with a group of high school students, I at least sort of looked like I knew what I was doing — a necessity for every teacher.
As an educator, I constantly find myself in situations that are new to me where I have to research and learn myself before I regurgitate it back for my students. This is particularly common on DECA trips where I teach students everything from how to iron clothing to how much to tip the maid. It’s challenging and rewarding. Like parenthood without the diaper changes.
Our vice principal, Andrea Gray, and I led 11 students from the Henley High DECA program on the trip of a lifetime: Kelly Armantrout, Stacy Brown, Colt Earls, Francisco Garcia, Nicole Gladwill, Charlie Gonsowski, Tanner Hallmark, Alex Lumbreras, Mitul Patel, Jaden Raul and Angelina Summers. It was an incredible experience.
DECA is effectively business club. The die-hard DECA advisors won’t like that I called it a club, but for the sake of explanation, it is. It lets students travel, learn valuable communication and job skills, understand professional dress, customs, and courtesies and compete against other students in a variety of specialized events.
While it offers a lot of great opportunities for students, I believe travel is the greatest of these, and Henley DECA averages 15-20 nights away from home every year. As a fishing and travel writer, I’m admittedly a little biased, but as someone who didn’t take a commercial flight until age 23, I truly believe DECA pays dividends.
A couple of the students we took had never left the state before — let alone flown across the entire country — so D.C. was monumental in more ways than one.
One of the beautiful aspects of DECA is that unlike sports or music, it doesn’t really attract a particular type of student. We have students from all walks of life, students who play sports and those who don’t, all thrown together into a program that allows them to broaden their experiences and see just how much the world has to offer.
In D.C., monuments steal the show, but it’s a national capital, and other experiences await. There was no shortage of sampling new cuisine, but the Brazilian churrascaria restaurant was probably the most popular. From the top-tier salad bar to the variety of choice meats served on skewers and hand-carved tableside in an all-you-can-eat, food coma-inducing barrage, it is sensory overload at its finest.
Don’t worry; we earned that appetite walking 5 to 10 miles a day in frigid temperatures. The kids were remarkably resilient, and no amount of historic buildings, art galleries, souvenir shops or French bakeries could dampen their enthusiasm. The timing of the trip worked out nicely because we moved even more quickly than anticipated, and we supplemented the already-full itinerary every day to maximize our time there. Crazy as it sounds, had we stayed any longer, we would’ve started running out of things to do.
That’s where fishing comes in. When you’ve climbed every mountain, seen every site and sampled every bite, it’s time to go fishing. Well, it’s always time to go fishing, but work and family and other activities get in the way sometimes.
I always travel with fishing gear, and two of the kids said they wanted to go fishing, so we detoured to a riverine park just minutes from downtown D.C. Given the space constraints and tight schedule, I hadn’t brought my rod case — just a telescoping tenkara rod and some microfishing gear wedged into my suitcase.
The three of us made our way to a nearby park, walking down a winding park path to a small cement culvert pumping out water heated just enough to keep it from freezing.
We took turns on the tenkara rod until I realized I could just tie up some more microfishing rods using a little fishing line and some of the sticks all around us. In minutes, we were all fishing and catching fish after fish. The boys who’d joined me, Colt Earls and Tanner Hallmark, took to it right away and began keeping track of the fish they caught.
On past DECA trips, we’ve fished ponds, tidepools and even taken a charter boat out on the ocean. Though we caught bigger fish on those other trips, never before had we caught so many.
The three of us hauled in 76 fish in 81 minutes. Not half bad for a late November sight-unseen fishing trip with sticks.
I was stoked to catch the new species I was after there, the mummichog, and the boys teased me appropriately for how excited I was to catch a fish the size of my thumb. We added banded killifish, eastern mosquitofish and a few sunfish to the haul.
As we passed back into the heart of the city, I couldn’t help myself from thinking in a British accent one thing: “What a capital day!”