Bringing History to Life

More than a dozen Brooks students had the opportunity to take their lessons further this summer, 3,776 miles in fact — all the way to Europe.

In observance of the 75th anniversary of D-Day (Allied troops' June 1944 invasion of Normandy, France to fight Nazi Germany), three Brooks teachers escorted 17 rising fourth- and fifth-formers on a WWII-themed tour with educational travel company Grand Classroom through England, France and Germany.

The students spent nine days, starting on June 24, visiting war sites, memorials, museums and getting the once-in-a-lifetime chance to try to more deeply understand the war in Europe, hands-on.

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"In line with Brooks School's mission, we believe that providing opportunities for students to get out in the world and experience history where it happened serves to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the human condition," said Academic Dean Susanna Waters, who helped plan the trip and accompanied students abroad along with History Teacher Amanda Nasser and English Teacher and Dean of Faculty John McVeigh. "Now more than ever, it proves important that our young people learn from the past. . . . .[And] we garnered a huge appreciation for the importance of remembrance and educating future generations on empathy and humanity."

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History lessons came to life as soon as the group's journey began, in London. Students got to stand in the bombed-out ruins of Coventry Cathedral and learn about its congregation's message of peace and reconciliation. They walked through the building where Alan Turing deciphered the German Enigma code and learned about code-breaking. The group even went on to wade in the Mulberry Harbor of Juno Beach among scuttled ships, navigate artillery craters at Pointe du Hoc and walk among the rows of crosses at the Normandy American Cemetery, before flying on to Germany where they touched the Berlin Wall and witnessed the crematorium at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

"It is hard to replicate these experiences confined to the four walls of a classroom, and it proved deeply memorable for these students to have sensory experiences and appreciate the sense of place at these monuments, memorials and museums," said Waters, a history teacher.

Highlights of the group's itinerary:

  • London: Churchill War Rooms, walk through Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, Westminster Parliament Square, St. James's Park, Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, National Portrait Gallery, Covent Garden and St. Martin's Courtyard. Tours of Coventry Cathedral and Bletchley Park
  • English Channel: Ferry from Portsmouth to Caen, France
  • France: Visits to Chateau de Caen, Abbey of Saint-Etienne, Caen Memorial Museum, Normandy beaches, Pointe du Hoc, Normandy American Cemetery, Overlord Museum and Paris
  • Germany: Tour of Berlin's Tiergarten, Victory Column, Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall, Alexanderplatz, Charlottenburg Palace and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp as well as the Brandenburg Gate, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Reichstag Building

The most memorable part of the trip? "Our experience in the Normandy American Cemetery," said Waters. "Our tour guide walked us through the names of missing servicemen, shared personal anecdotes and photographs with us about family members visiting their lost loved ones over many decades, and we were also fortunate to participate in a laying-of-the-wreath ceremony."

During the visit, students and teachers enjoyed a moment listening to The Star-Spangled Banner and bugle call, Taps. "Standing through the national anthem, looking out over 9,388 grave markers standing watch over the very beaches where many of the interred died, was deeply moving," she added. "The students were engrossed in a silent reverence as they moved throughout the grounds and visited the chapel on site. It was a peaceful and reflective morning that will stay with all of us for a long time."

Of course, there was simple joy on the journey as well (including catching the France vs. U.S. World Cup game on TV). "The most pure fun probably occurred atop the German parliamentary building, the Reichstag," Waters recalled. "It was the perfect capstone experience to our trip, to take in Berlin from a rooftop at sunset, in one of the coolest interactive architectural features we had the pleasure of visiting: a transparent dome with a double-helix spiral walkway to the top, all lit up in the evening sky. It was spectacular, and spirits were high and hearts full after an amazing trip."

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