Informed by opposing viewpoints, 8th grade students reflect on their Hill Day experiences.
As part of their history curriculum, 8th graders research one of six constitutional issues: abortion, hate speech, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and capital punishment. In March, students will present a position paper that describes the history of their issue and summarizes both sides with as little bias as possible, before arguing their own opinion.
“Hill Day provides contrasting views on both sides of an issue to give a better understanding of the arguments,” said Ben Stern ’23. “Before Hill Day, I already had a pretty strong opinion, but I used the experience to find the best arguments for both sides.”
For each track, students interview attorneys, advocates, judges, congressional representatives, and lobbyists (including several GDS parents) who are experts in their fields. Asha Adiga-Biro ’23 participated in the abortion track. She recalled, “We met first with Mary Forr of the Archdiocese of Washington. She said that she didn’t believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances. Hearing her talk, I felt conflicted and frustrated at times because I would want to say something in response—something unproductive—and I had to remind myself that was not what we were there to do. We listened to her share her personal stories that led her to her strongly-held beliefs. During that conversation, I realized more concretely that I am pro choice because I recognized that I didn’t agree with any of her arguments. Still, the meeting was valuable for building up the opposing arguments section of my essay.”
The same group went on to meet with Kim Parker (parent of Nava Mach ’23), an attorney at WilmerHale and previously at the ACLU. She helped students, including Asha, develop a more nuanced understanding of abortion policies and law. She covered trimester debate and state-imposed restrictions. Asha explained, “She made me change my stance [on a trimester system]. When we consider our stance on abortion, we need to consider so many different factors: travel, expenses, possible violence at home.”
David Leary (parent of Sarah Leary ’23) chaperoned the gun control group. “What stood out to me was the comfort, preparedness, and poise of our students as they respectfully questioned those who advocate on both sides of the issue,” he explained. “It's not every person—much less every young teen—who can pull this off, and it’s one of those special skills that GDS nurtures so well in many aspects of its program. All together, this project is quintessential GDS. It brings together amazing classroom teaching and research with real-life experience. The result goes well beyond students learning about a particular issue. They learn how to conduct detailed research, use that research to analyze a complex issue, and then engage that issue head on.”
During one interview, 13 8th graders sat around a conference table with Senator Christopher Murphy of Connecticut, questioning him on gun control. “The GDS adults in the room kept looking at each other, recognizing what an amazing opportunity the students were having, and yet the students took the moment in stride,” said GDS Middle School learning specialist Cristina Watson. “Senator Murphy took them seriously and answered their questions thoughtfully and directly. I found Hill Day to be a powerful example of the way GDS values the voices of children and prepares students to participate respectfully in civic dialogue. I was also impressed by how knowledgeable our students are and with how well-prepared they were for this experience.”
Zoe Beck ’23 and Sophie Bronner ’23 participated in the capital punishment track. They met with Olivia Warren, law clerk for Justice Ketanji Jackson of the U.S. District Court of DC (parent of Leila Jackson ’22), to hear opposition views to capital punishment and Brent Newton of the U.S. Sentencing Commission to understand some of the arguments in favor of its use in extraordinary cases.
“After the first interview, I was able to chat with Angie [Errett, Middle School math teacher],” Zoe said. “The conversation gave me the chance to reflect on the first and helped me prepare for the next one.”
“I really valued the opportunity to get to know classmates from my group better and the chance to feel even more independent,” Sophie added. “We compared notes after each interview in case we didn’t catch something in the interview and also to get a better sense of each others’ perspectives on the same meeting.”
Whether meeting with Brandi Graham from the NRA or Eugenio Weigend from the Center for American Progress, students demonstrated keen attention to how arguments were made and which lines of reasoning were most impactful to them.
“Brandi Graham talked a lot about how gun control laws sometimes make gun crimes worse,” said Ben Stern ’23. “That was an awakening for me. She cited California crime, saying the amount of crime is extremely high even though they have strong gun laws. By contrast, Eugenio Weigend quoted rates instead.”
We are grateful to those on the Hill who participated in these interview (full list below), to our parent and staff chaperones, to transportation director Chris France, and above all, our 8th grade history teachers Julia Blount and Perry Degener as well as Middle School librarian Lisa Fall for organizing and guiding the students through this important work.
For decades, Hill Day at GDS has helped Middle School students think critically and communicate their thoughtfully established opinions clearly and powerfully—equipping them to engage in the great conversations and debates of life.
Staff writer Danny Stock tells the stories of teaching, learning, competing, creating, and performing at Georgetown Day School. He is a former GDS second grade teacher and current parent.
Georgetown Day School is a coed, preK-12, non-sectarian private school in Washington, DC with small class sizes and a diverse school community. Our comprehensive, innovative curriculum includes hands-on learning, honors and AP classes, as well as advanced-level math and STEM courses. An education is not just college prep and SAT scores. GDS teachers focus on providing the best education for each child, from elementary grades through high school. The school performing arts program includes theater, dance, and music. The athletics program offers competitive sports for student athletes, including cross-country, track, soccer, lacrosse, and crew/rowing. With our strong commitment to financial aid, an independent school tuition is affordable.