The Politics department from Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College (QE), Darlington, has resumed its hugely popular trip to Washington D.C. following a three year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over twenty second year A Level Politics students spent six nights in the American capital, exploring the city’s sights and obtaining a valuable insight into the political workings of one of the world’s most powerful countries. The visit began with students having the special opportunity to speak with Aaron Scherb, Senior Director of Legislative Affairs at Common Cause, a public interest group which campaigns for greater transparency and fairness in American politics. Aaron joined Common Cause in 2013 and has established himself at the forefront of the US political system. In the board room of their 15th Street offices, just across the road from the White House, Aaron responded to questions from students about how voter suppression in some states is damaging American democracy and why it is difficult to pass reforms in Congress due to the current state of polarisation. Hannah Malik, who studies Politics, History and Fine Art at QE, comments: ‘Aaron really helped us to understand the impact of polarisation on politics in the USA.’ Organisers of the meeting wanted to pay special tribute to Aaron for rearranging a slot to speak with the students despite the unexpected death of a colleague.

The next stop of the trip was to meet young activists from Advocates for Youth, a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation which focuses on sex education and reproductive rights. The students heard from a panel of members who have been active in campaigns involving young Muslim women, sexual health on university campuses and raising awareness surrounding the issue of HIV. Kelis Brennan, who is enrolled on A Level Politics, History and Law at QE, was particularly impressed by the young women representing the group. The 18-year-old from Stockton-on-Tees says: ‘They were truly inspiring and captivating from the moment we sat down.’ Similar sentiments were shared by Tamara Marzouk, Director of Abortion Access at Advocates for Youth, who is looking forward to working with QE’s Politics department in future trips to the US capital.

The packed itinerary also featured visits to Washington’s world-famous sights, including the Lincoln Memorial and steps from which Martin Luther King JR delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, the Vietnam Memorial and Arlington National Ceremony where students witnessed the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier. A tour of the recently re-opened Congress took the group to the heart of the American political system where they were able to gain an impromptu sighting of the speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, midway through his attempt to block spending by the Biden administration. For 18-year-old Jessica Nunn, who studies A Level Politics, Media Studies and Graphics, this was the highlight of the whole trip. She explains: ‘It felt great to sit in on a session in the House of Representatives.’

A visit to the National Museum of African American History concluded the week’s educational activities, adding to the visits to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum left a huge impression on students with Freya Ovenstone, who is enrolled on A Level Politics, History and Psychology, describing it as very emotional. The 18-year-old from Richmond adds: ‘We were given a passport of someone caught up in the Holocaust and it really made you think about what people were going through at that time.’

Before the flight home, there was just enough time for some souvenir shopping in Washington’s very fashionable Georgetown area and an NBA basketball game between Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks. 17-year-old Matthew Dove, who studies A Level Politics, History and Economics, thoroughly enjoyed soaking in the atmosphere of the game. He says: ‘It was really fun! I don’t know much about NBA but seeing how invested the crowds were was amazing.’

Upon their return to College, the students are now looking forward to sharing what they have learnt with their peers as exam season approaches and the American political system being a key focus. Jess Weatherspoon, a student of A Level Politics, History, Law and Extended Project, has fond memories of the trip. The 18-year-old from Sedgefield, concludes: ‘I came home with a new group of friends who have all shared the same fantastic experience.’

To find out more about QE’s A Level Politics course, please contact Laurence Job, Deputy Principal ([email protected]).