Three Days in D.C.

Just back from three days in the Washington, D.C. area. I arrived on Tuesday, checked into my hotel in Arlington, and actually had time to watch “House” on television. What surprised me most: political commercials. We don’t get those in Texas, I suppose because neither campaign considers Texas a swing state so they don’t waste their money. Go figure. I’m sure these commercials get annoying for those who live with them all the time, but I have to say I always feel a little ignored, living in Texas, and it was kind of interesting and exciting to be in Virginia for a while, where there is very much a sense that things are “in play.”

Wednesday I visited the Lab School of Washington, a well-established school for children with learning differences. As I’ve mentioned before, I go out of my way to visit such schools because of the Percy series and my own son’s struggle with ADHD/dyslexia, and I was very impressed with the Lab School’s program. They use a ‘club’ system to teach history, social studies and art. At each grade level, students join a club for the year – the Renaissance club, the medieval Lords and Ladies, the Industrialists, etc. The classroom is transformed into a historical setting. The teachers and students wear period clothing and learn about their era with hands-on activities. No textbooks allowed. I got to have lunch with the gods and goddesses club, which focuses on Egypt, Greece and Rome. The teacher was Cleopatra VII, which is the first time I’ve dined with royalty. I met with kids from second grade through high school, and they were all a very enthusiastic bunch.

Thursday I visited another school for learning differences, the Siena School, in Silver Spring, Maryland. This is a smaller, newer school, but they’re off to a great start. Again, the kids had super questions. What I love about kids with learning differences is they ask the most insightful, creative questions. Usually I can pretty much predict which questions I’ll get asked at a school visit. There’s not much variation. But at an LD school, the kids are such divergent thinkers that they really keep me on my toes! Thursday afternoon we did a public event at the Imagination Stage in Bethesda – fantastic venue for children’s theater. Thanks to the local libraries who helped sponsor the visit, along with Siena School. They made beautiful posters for the event, and we had a full house.

Friday, I spoke with the students at Hammond Middle School in Alexandria – a public middle school, also great, but a total 180-degree change, speaking to six hundred kids at a time rather than twenty at the Siena School! The students were very enthusiastic, especially the members of the school’s Club BILI, a boys’ literacy group that had been reading the Percy Jackson books. The club is so successful that there was a teacher from Australia visiting the school to study their program. And I thought I came a long way! Thanks to Elaine the school librarian, the faculty and PTO for putting together the event. And thanks to Sharif and Aaron, my student escorts for the day.

Now I’m back home for twenty-four hours before getting on another airplane (sob). I’ll post an update next week from the road.

Rick Riordan