Government shutdown ends in time for Bement students to visit Gettysburg battlefield
DEERFIELD — For three days in October, eighth-graders at the Bement School toured the battlefield of Gettysburg just after the federal government shutdown was lifted.
The 13- and 14-year-olds were able to see firsthand defining monuments at Little Round Top, the Devil’s Den and Slaughter Pen on a major battlefield of the Civil War.
The weeks-long government shutdown left the students’ field trip in a precarious situation.
While the students expected to visit the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center, which is run by a private organization, they would not have been able to see the historic battlefield if the government remained closed. One of the affected federal agencies was the National Park Service, which closed the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Katrina Spicer-Lindquist, chairwoman of the history department and one of two history teachers, said the trip made history tangible for students.
“It reaffirmed the fact that living history is equally important as what we actually do in the classroom,” Spicer-Lindquist said. “I can explain and show an re-enactment but to have kids stand in those spits, climb over the fences and say to them as we’re walking, ‘That’s where the Union soldiers fired,’ gives them a completely different sense.”
As the Oct. 23 date for their trip approached and government officials remained at a stalemate, students decided to take it into their own hands by participating in their government.
The students called and left messages with the offices of House Speaker John Boehner and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, informing them how the government stalemate affected their generation.
When the government re-opened days before the field trip, students felt relieved.
“When they told us the government was shut down and we wouldn’t be able to do it all, I didn’t realize. Now that I went, I realized it would be very different,” said Julia Rubeck.
“If the government stayed shut down, we wouldn’t have had three-quarters of the memories we had,” said Gemma Borra Paley, a student.
The federal leaders, however, never did get in touch with the students except for a standard email sent from Warren’s office.
Despite not getting a message back, student Gabrielle Cator said she learned a lot from the experience.
“I realized even when you’re young, you can change things and do something,” Cator said. “I feel like politics is fun. I might want to go into it when I’m older.”
Spicer-Lindquist said she wished the federal officials had made an effort to call her students back.
“My goal is to get students to recognize how government works when we teach government for the people, by the people,” said Spicer-Lindquist. “They did their part. The government for the people, by the people didn’t do its part.”
Spicer-Lindquist worries about a disengaged population and how a return message from the two leaders could have reversed that trend.
“We struggle as a country with a disengaged population. History teachers try desperately to re-engage students,” Spicer-Lindquist said. “When one side only works, you end up with more disengaged adults.”