Mr. Miller Goes to Washington
Writer / Tonja Talley
Photos / Provided
On October 9, Center Grove resident Rick Miller, along with other chaperones, headed on another trip to Washington, D.C., with 180 eighth-grade students. A history teacher at Center Grove Middle School North (CGMSN), Miller is passionate about history, constantly creating life-changing learning experiences for students. In other words, he tries bringing history back to life in ways our children understand.
As a young teacher, Miller reveled in the enthusiasm his students presented for history after attending the annual eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C. Curious to witness what these students learn on the trip, Miller, a fun-loving person with a servant’s heart, joined the 1983 group as a chaperone to D.C. Four years later, he took over the role of trip coordinator. Since that time, Miller has gone to D.C. with more than 5,800 students and 160 chaperones.
Recently, Miller sat down and highlighted some of the people and activities throughout the last 31 years that have made the trips memorable.
Every group has experienced Washington, D.C., either by walking or by riding a tour bus. Walking, the group seems to come face-to-face with many famous Washington names.
During our conversation, Miller confirmed a story to be true about him literally running into a U.S. Senator.
“It’s been a while back now. We were walking, and I turned around to talk to the kids when I accidentally bumped into someone. Spinning around to apologize, I realized I was staring into the face of Senator Ted Kennedy.”
There were other moments too. For instance, President Clinton rolled his limousine window down and waved at many astonished CG teens in 1998. A decade later, the 2008 group of travelers saw President George W. Bush getting off the presidential helicopter.
In Miller’s opinion, one of the best surprises happened in 1997. “We were at the Naval Museum, and a film crew was filming right outside the building. I had been watching the action play out, so I went up to the cameraman and asked about the film. Come to find out, it was a space documentary starring astronaut Alan Shepherd,” Miller said, grinning.
“And the best part of all, Mr. Shepherd talked to the kids for a while about the future space program and the Wright brothers movie, which was playing in theaters at the time.”
On two occasions, troubles of our nation postponed the fall trips. Such was the case September 2001. The rescheduled trip took place during the school’s three-day break observing President’s Day in February 2002.
Befitting the occasion, the students visited Mount Vernon, Washington’s beloved farmhouse on the Potomac River, on President’s Day. The day brought the funniest moment in a student and teacher relationship. The students razzed Mr. Miller for a giant no-no.
As the story goes, guides dressed in period clothing walked around the grounds to answer questions about the iconic estate. Being President’s Day, President George Washington and his lovely wife, Martha, roamed the grounds as well. Upon seeing the famous couple, Miller said hello to good ole “George.”
Completely in character, the first president declared Miller needed respectful manners. “Sir,” President Washington directed his words to Miller. “Never address me as George. You can refer to me as President Washington or Mr. Washington but by no other name. Matter of fact, my own wife doesn’t call me George.”
Standing in the background, the students roared with laughter, chanting, “You just got spanked by President Washington, Mr. Miller!”
On every trip, the CG students visit many of the city’s monuments and memorials. On one particular trip, the group visited the Iwo Jima war memorial. As if planned, a man, a stranger to the CG group, introduced himself as a retired veteran from World War II. His last service to our country … Iwo Jima.
Other places the group continually visits are Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; the U.S. Capitol; Ford’s Theatre where the assassination of President Lincoln took place; and museums such as the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Smithsonian.
As the interview wound down, I asked if any certain activity in the last 31 years stuck out in this history teacher’s memory.
Miller quickly replied, “The White House.”
On many trips, the CG travelers joined thousands of other tourists in the public tour of the White House. But one year, a student had a surprise for the whole group, including Miller. Through a family member who worked at the White House, the boy had arranged special permission for the CG group to visit the West Wing.
Can you imagine the bragging rights these students and chaperones claimed by standing in the Oval Office? “I wanted so badly to take a picture,” Miller said. “The security guard said I could, but he would have to confiscate the camera.”
According to Miller, the West Wing’s James S. Brady Press Briefing Room caught the fascination of many of the kids. Or rather, the floor below the Press Room intrigued the students. The newly renovated Press Room maximized space by reconfiguring TV wiring from the back of the Press Room to the floor below. Heading downstairs, Miller told of the many gasps he heard from the kids.
Miller described the scene. “Below the Press Room, a pool had been built for President Roosevelt to use as therapy against his polio. To the surprise of the children, the pool today no longer holds chlorinated water but miles and miles of fiber optic and digital TV wiring. What I found fascinating were the tiles surrounding the pool. Any dignitary or President who had visited the pool area had signed their name on a tile.”
As Mr. Miller goes to Washington, D.C., for the 32nd time, history tells me Mr. Miller’s passion of creating a life-changing learning experience for students will come to fruition again for the 2015-16 Washington, D.C., attendees.