Reading Initiative brings students to DC for overnight “grand prize” trip


The students who participated in the Reading Initiative at the National Archives Museum.

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The Townsend Harris Reading Initiative hosted a trip to Washington DC at the beginning of April. With visits to the Library of Congress and the National Archives, the trip offered students a chance to celebrate the over 900,000 minutes of independent reading that the school community has logged so far this year for the Initiative’s reading challenge. Eight of the top scoring independent readers won the Initiative’s grand prize for the year: a free spot on the trip. 

The majority of the winners came from the junior class since their grade has logged the most minutes of reading so far this year. One top-scoring student from the freshman, sophomore, and senior classes also won a spot on the trip. The price of the trip was $400, which covered the bus ride, a day at Six Flags, and trips to various monuments and important landmarks in addition to the reading-related sites. 

Librarian Arlene Laverde and Classic advisor/English Teacher Brian Sweeney organized the trip. “We wanted to do something special for those who have been consistently reading, and we picked DC because it has the Library of Congress, and other reading-related sites,” said Mr. Sweeney. He said that they also selected DC since so many students at THHS missed going on eighth grade overnight trips to DC, a common tradition at many middle schools.

“The trip was amazing,” said sophomore Hanna Pogorzelska. “I loved that we had freedom, yet we were being supervised. The chaperones were all very nice and friendly, and everywhere we went was very pretty”

Senior Arietta Xylas also reflected on her time in Washington DC. “I thought that everything was super well-organized, safe, [and] fun,” she said.

Of the various activities that students participated in, many Harrisites said they enjoyed visiting the Library of Congress, a research library dating back to the 1800s. Arietta said, “The Library of Congress…was absolutely gorgeous and was a great way to end the trip.” She also said she enjoyed spending time with friends and going on roller coasters with chaperones at the nearby Six Flags America Theme Park.

“My favorite part of the trip was going to see the Smithsonian Museum and the monuments,” said junior Alison Li. “Personally, I really like museums, [and] I thought the Smithsonian was really interesting, interactive, and informative in a way that made me wish that we had a lot more time to spend there.” 

Along with Ms. Laverde, Mr. Sweeney, ISS teacher Katherine Gelbman, and ISS teacher Kevin McDonaugh, senior advisor Blayne Gelbman served as one of the chaperones on the trip. He said, “I haven’t visited DC as a tourist in a long time, so my experience was really great and it was just nice to interact with a really cool group of kids.”

“Overall, I’m glad the trip was successful and I’m grateful for all of the chaperones,” said librarian Arlene Laverde. [Organizing the trip] scared me a lot at first, but I’m very pleased with how it turned out.”