To Boldly Learn What No One Has Learned Before

By Katie Watanabe, DC Elementary School Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff


Hello, everyone! My name is Katie Watanabe, and I am the DC Elementary School Program Intern for the summer! I’m writing in with a quick update about all the adventures we’ve been having at Thomson Elementary School these past few weeks!

The theme of this year’s summer program is “Discovery.” As you might be able to tell from the title of this post, we are working together to discover cross-cultural connections, knowledge about the world around us, and leadership skills—all through the lens of Star Trek! Just like the crew onboard the starship Enterprise, our elementary school cadets have displayed remarkable adventurousness, confidence, teamwork, and endurance as they discover new cultures, abilities, and ways of looking at the world. As one of the staff helping the program run its course, I feel so incredibly honored to be able to accompany the youth on their journey to “boldly learn what no one has learned before!”

AALEAD at B&O Museum

AALEAD DC ES youth and staff

Somehow, the time has flown by since the start of the program, and we have already entered our fourth week! Our youth have already grown so much—just observing them and their interactions has taught me a lot about our program principles of adventurousness, confidence, teamwork, endurance, and leadership.

All of our team members have shown their incredible sense of adventure as they try new things, meet new people, and visit new places! Some of our youth have been especially adventurous as they discover AALEAD for the first time; others continue to discover new friendships and experiences even within a familiar setting. All of them have shown a wonderful willingness to try new things, even if they seem scary at first. Every day our youth bravely face challenges like constructing “alien brain containers” in a STEM lesson, sampling Southeast Asian fruits as a new cross-cultural experience, and learning to cook healthy meals as a class.

DC ES youth discovering!

Our youth have also taught me quite a bit about confidence—they have not only impressed upon me the value of believing in one’s own self, but also shown me their compassion in inspiring confidence in others. During our weekly reading buddies, for example, our older classes pair up with our younger ones, and the older youth read stories and lead discussions with our younger team members. Older youth made sure that during the class presentations, younger youth were all able to speak in front of the entire class with confidence, and that their classmates fostered that confidence by listening respectfully.

AALEAD Reading Buddies

Teamwork and encouragement have also been key components of these past four weeks—the classes have really come together as a team, with shared experiences and goals. They have gone from struggling to remain in line during our first few days of programming to keeping an eye out for each other and sticking together even on our field trips to the B&O Railroad Museum and the National Postal Museum! In our journey to the Postal Museum in particular, our youth impressed me by looking out for themselves and each other to make sure that all of us were able to keep together even on the crowded metro bus system!

AALEAD DC Summer Discovery Program

DC ES youth discovering!

Speaking of buses, our youth have also shown a good deal of endurance in recognizing that sometimes, not everything can go exactly according to plan, and that situations can be handled with good humor and flexibility. Our youth have been amazing in dealing with buses that came too early, buses that came too late, buses that didn’t come at all, hot weather, thunderstorms, and everything in between! Recently, I was with our fourth and fifth graders on a trip to the pool, when we had almost all of those happen at once—hot weather on the way there, a lack of buses plus a thunderstorm on the way back. Still, the team kept smiling and laughing even through the rain, and stayed calm and organized throughout our entire trip back.

Even though our leadership week officially starts next Monday, I feel as though I have already observed amazing leadership from our youth at AALEAD this summer! As I’ve said, these elementary schoolers have taught me about all of our principles of adventurousness, confidence, teamwork, and endurance, and have helped me through my adventure at AALEAD. I am currently a rising senior double majoring in International Relations and Japanese at the University of California, Davis. Before starting my position as DC ES Summer Program Intern, I was not sure what to expect—I come from a small town in California, and had never lived either in a city or on the East Coast before!

Starting out, I was a little bit nervous about my role and position, but those fears melted away when I got to first meet our wonderful youth. Their brilliance and kindness is what inspires me to endure even when things might seem difficult, and to be adventurous enough to try new things, like leading my own workshops and activities! Seeing their growth and teamwork makes me feel confident enough to lead the classroom and work with our amazing staff here at Thomson Elementary School. I’m so thankful to have been able to work for this amazing program for the past month, and can’t wait to continue on with our final week!

DC ES Summer Discover Program

Please tune in next time for our leadership week and final projects!

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