Honoring Our Identities: Turkey Run, Updated

For more than 35 years, Georgetown Day School 3rd grade students have embarked on an overnight camping trip to the Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run Park in McLean, Virginia. During their time on this beloved GDS trip, our students—with the support of their teachers and parents—recreate conditions of colonial life in 1771.

During this magical overnight adventure, students sleep in simple tents, cook food over an open fire, engage in activities common to children of that era, and navigate their days without the technology to which they have grown accustomed. While much has remained the same since we first headed out to Turkey Run four decades ago, this overnight trip has gone through changes—some small, some big—and each one has only deepened and improved the experience for our students.

This year, we are implementing a change that is in line with current best practices in education and also honors our mission and our students’ identities: Our students will no longer take on the identity of another person or be asked to wear Colonial attire.

From their first days at GDS, students are taught to know and be proud of themselves and their families. We also—in developmentally appropriate ways and at the appropriate time—introduce them to the complexity of this country’s history. For some students, and particularly for students of any descent other than European, the simulation at Turkey Run can be emotionally laden, as they reconcile the identity they are supposed to assume with the knowledge of how very different their lives would have been in 1771. By removing the identity assumption aspect of this trip, we are creating an experience in which students of all backgrounds can fully immerse themselves in this experience.

This decision was not reached lightly. However, not only is it truly reflective of our mission, but it is also based on our knowledge of child development, as well as feedback from current families, past and current students, and alumni. For some this change may feel like a loss, however, I would encourage our community to look at it as a positive evolution of this trip. To put aside the clamor of technology and live even for a day or two by the natural rhythms of life is a gift all too rare.

GDS believes at its core that children can only do their best work when they are emotionally and physically safe and when their teachers love and welcome who they are and who they are becoming. Turkey Run is and has been a memorable experience for our 3rd graders. With this change we feel certain it will continue to be so.

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