'Mids N Kids' tour nation's capital


Twenty-four pairs of young eyes stared attentively at Congressman Wayne T. Gilchrest as he stood on a lawn outside the U.S. Capitol and spun the parable of the gold digger.

"How many of you would dig through a mountain as high as the Capitol building if it took four or five years and there was a guarantee of $1 million in gold at the bottom?" the Republican asked.

When every hand shot up, the congressman gave the meaning of the parable.

"The $1 million is an education," he explained.

Behind those 24 youngsters stood 11 U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen, eager to help them get that $1 million education. The midshipmen were members of "Mids N Kids," a Saturday tutoring program begun three years ago to help students in grades one through eight from the poor communities of Annapolis.

On Friday, 24 children who regularly show up for tutoring sessions received a tour of Washington, D.C. It was a long day, beginning on the academy grounds at 7:30 a.m.

As the Naval Academy bus made its way along Route 50 for the trip, the group of 6- to 14-year-olds were surprisingly quiet and well-mannered. Their casual dress of jeans and shirts made a stark contrast to the midshipmen, who wore black uniforms and white service hats.

Shortly after 8 a.m., the bus glided up South Capitol Street as the Capitol's dome came into view.

"Is that the White House?" one child asked. Candice Bigelow, who helped start the tutoring program, explained that the building was the Capitol, similar to the statehouse in Annapolis, but "for the whole country."

Their first stop was the Lincoln Memorial. Some of the children went inside the memorial with their midshipmen escorts. Others posed for pictures in front of the Reflecting Pool.

The next stop was a 15-minute tour of the White House. Then the group headed to the Capitol, where they snacked on apples and bananas before being greeted by Mr. Gilchrest, a Republican who represents the 1st District. Then they trudged to McDonald's in Union Station for lunch. The midshipmen brought their own box lunches.

Nothing went to waste, however. On their way back to the Capitol, the midshipmen and the students gave leftover box lunches to homeless people. Cathy Collier, Mr. Gilchrest's press secretary, gave the group a tour of the Capitol.

The students, many of whom had never been to Washington, listened as members of the House of Representatives debated the merits of welfare reform. When Ms. Collier told them they could get good luck by rubbing the foot of a statue of Will Rogers, they eagerly stepped up. Later, in Statuary Hall, some students apparently wanted to increase their luck by rubbing the feet of more statues.

Ms. Collier also told them how John Quincy Adams could sit in his seat and hear whispered comments from across the hall because of the acoustics of the building. It was in that seat that Adams had a heart attack before he died in a nearby room, Ms. Collier said.

Marvin Venerable, 11, a fifth-grader from Tyler Heights Elementary, asked Ms. Collier to show him the brass plate on the floor of Statuary Hall marking the spot where Mr. Adams sat. As he stood there, another tourist went across the room and whispered.

"I can hear it!" shouted James Coates, 12, a seventh-grader at Annapolis Middle School.

The group headed for home soon after their tour of the Capitol. They arrived in Annapolis about 4 p.m., about eight hours after they started. The midshipmen looked exhausted. The children did not.

Mids N Kids is funded by a $5,000 grant from the Anne Arundel Department of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, said Ms. Bigelow, 38. About 100 midshipmen sign up for the program, and 60 to 80 regularly show up. The midshipmen tutor the children from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

All 11 midshipmen on Friday's trip had permission to miss classes to attend, said Midshipman Roderick Benson, 22, a junior from Flint, Mich. They will have to make those classes up.

Looking at the students enjoy themselves as they toured the halls of the Capitol, Mr. Benson, a junior oceanography major, said, "It's a small sacrifice."

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