In mid-February, 8th graders had the opportunity to interview experts on prominent constitutional issues present in the national dialogue during Hill Day, a GDS tradition now positioned at the intersection of history and the office of community engagement and experiential learning (CEEL). The project is a major milestone in their yearlong study of a single issue—reproductive rights, access to education, or immigration, to name a few—in preparation for their capstone research paper completed later in the spring.
Prior to Hill Day, students honed their interview skills in conversation with GDS-affiliated journalists—Alix Spiegel, Lulu Garcia-Navarro, and Cecilia Kang of the New York Times and Dick Meyer of Scripps Washington Bureau—and finetuned their questions in partnership with GDS High School students, who are veterans of Hill Day.
Then, on February 16, students interviewed two people who work professionally on the same issue, but from diverging viewpoints. For example, students studying the 2nd Amendment met with a grassroots manager at the National Rifle Association (NRA) and an engagement associate at Giffords, an advocacy group combatting gun violence. The meetings took place downtown as well as on campus.
View the Hill Day gallery
Students reflected on the day and its impact on their constitutional issue paper as well as their ongoing policy and advocacy learning with CEEL. Here’s what six of them had to say…
Lulu ’27 (Reproductive Rights Track): I had learned about the different perspectives [related to reproductive rights], but I hadn’t gotten to talk to someone with [a pro-life] perspective. It gave me the chance to break down the stereotypical characteristics of someone who is pro-life, and we were able to find some common ground between all of our beliefs.
Elise ’27 (Economic Inequality): [Hill Day] was a really educational and collaborative experience. We all worked together to interview someone who was an expert on this topic. She treated us like we were adults—never simplified it for us because we knew the topic and never changed it to make it more manageable. She told us, ‘You guys are so mature!’ We got the best information we could get.
Jacob ’27 (2nd Amendment): I thought it was fun. We began with an expert from Giffords, who gave us a lot of information and a lot of statistics. We found that our questions were a bit disorganized. It was cool to talk to someone from the NRA, even if she was sort of unhelpful. Almost every response was, “What is your definition of ‘___’;?” She told us, “Don’t trust my words or the words from Giffords, but do your own research.” She didn’t give us much.
Abby ’27 (Environmental Justice—EJ): We had read and researched so much, but it was different speaking in person to someone holding that view. There were a lot of “Aha!” moments and understanding of where they were coming from. I wish I’d researched EJ beyond indigenous land rights so I could have grasped better what they were talking about for inclusion in my paper.
Sam ’27 (Access to Education): We spoke with [American University’s Assistant Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Affinity Relations] Lisa Taylor was helpful with multiple viewpoints and explained the importance of understanding people when shaping a system. [Center for Educational Freedom Director at the CATO Institute] Neal McCluskey had questionable views. He gave us the same response multiple times if we asked a question that he didn’t want to answer.
Eva ’27 (Immigration): We felt pretty prepared [for the interview], but it turns out that we were not. [The expert from the Heritage Foundation] said we had no evidence behind some of our questions. People were laughing to themselves with the discomfort. We learned about racial biases in the immigration system when we spoke to [Former Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] Leon Rodriguez (parent of Talia ’20 and Elias ’22).