For a school that prides itself on a tradition of excellence, Paducah Tilghman’s annual American Studies trip to Washington, D.C., just reached a new depth of experience. This fall, Paducah Tilghman juniors in the Advanced Placement American Studies class joined their predecessors in a very long line of documentary photos that traverses AP Literature and Composition teacher Susan Hancock’s and AP US history teacher Ashley Adkins’ wall. Twenty-seven classmates took a week-long journey to Monticello, Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, and the nation’s capital to see first-hand the center of America’s government. This year, three students found they had a special distinction on this journey. Maddie Milford, Sabel Overlin, and I are among the first of the second-generation students to experience the event that contributes to Tilghman’s tradition of excellence.
The Tilghman tradition in this expedition dates back to the early 1980s when Honors American Literature teacher Rosemary Rudolph and Honors American history teacher Mary Ann Waltman noticed parallels in their respective curricula. “Students would come into my English class from history and remark that what I was teaching followed along the same lines time-wise as what they had just learned the previous hour,” Rudolph says. Thus, the seed was planted between Rudolph and Waltman. Why not combine American literature and history in a dual class?
The concept was approved, the two composed the syllabus, and the class was offered to honors students. “The class was designed as a chronological approach to American history, literature, culture, art, and music,” Waltman remembers. “We tried to offer as many hands-on opportunities as we could, so a trip to Washington, D.C. and Williamsburg arose out of the need for real-life experiences.” This idea was approved, and it is estimated that over 1,000 Tilghman students have taken part in the annual event. Since the class conception, its status has changed from honors to Advanced Placement when the designation became available at Tilghman.
Over the past three decades, the trip to Washington and Williamsburg has continued, although not always smoothly. “One year, our group was stranded for four days at a Holiday Inn in Virginia,” explains Waltman, referring to a 1993 snowstorm. “The highways were closed, people were stranded, and we were lucky to find rooms at all as we tried to make our way back home. We played in the snow, played cards - anything to pass the time.” Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the trip was altered since traveling to Washington D.C. was deemed too dangerous. Instead, students spent more time in Williamsburg and added trips to Virginia homes of US Presidents.
This fall, our class was able to see first-hand many things we have learned about in the history portion of the American Studies class. In Williamsburg, we observed demonstrations including those from functioning blacksmiths, those working with printing presses, and even wigmakers. In Washington, D.C., we toured the National Cathedral, the Library of Congress, and the Newseum. In addition, we visited the National Gallery of Art and multiple museums in the Smithsonian Institute, watched the musical War Horse at the Kennedy Center, and took a nighttime walking tour of the monuments.
During the final two days of the trip, some of the most memorable moments occurred. A tour of the Capitol building began with a photograph of the class that was made on the steps leading up the left side of the building with the Capitol’s iconic dome in the background. This photo, taken in the same spot as the ones from previous years, will soon be joining the long line of class photos on the American Studies classroom wall.
Following the tour of the Capitol, my classmates and I toured the National Archives. There, my class was able to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and even a copy of the Magna Carta. We concluded the day with a photo in front of the White House - another tradition of the trip.
Three members of my class walked these paths in the footsteps of a parent. Justin Hancock, Robbie Milford, and Kathleen Overlin were all American Studies students during the 1980s. While the entire class was honored to be upholding this Tilghman tradition, Maddie, Sabel, and I were particularly struck by the legacy we were continuing.
Since the inaugural trip decades ago, students have kept journals each year in which they’ve recorded their observations and thoughts throughout the week. As I was packing for my trip, my father found his from 1985. Reading about his experiences during the trip and now reflecting on my own, I am, as always, proud of my school’s commitment to excellence and tradition. It is impressive to watch an idea hatched by two teachers almost thirty years ago now enter its second generation.