Mrs. Casto’s Day in D.C.

Approximately two weeks ago, I saw this on Twitter:

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I thought to myself, Wow! That sounds like a great opportunity. There’s no way on this good, green Earth that I’ll ever be selected (because, really, who am I?), but I’ll apply anyway. I took a chance as well as about 10 minutes to apply on my iPhone while cooking dinner one night, pressed “Send,” and let out a big sigh at the thought of such an amazing opportunity.

Fast forward to a few days later, I received the following email from the White House’s Deputy Director of Digital Programs, Kasie Coccaro:

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Whoa! They selected ME?! I just couldn’t believe it! One of my dreams of meeting the Secretary of Education was going to finally come true AND I was going to also tour the White House AND meet Dr. Biden…wow. Just, wow.

After just a few days of security-clearance and itinerary emails, the BIG DAY was here! I did most of my driving on the day before, and stayed overnight in a hotel near Fredericksburg, VA. (I didn’t get too much sleep because I was so excited!) I got up early with the intention of meeting a few of the other educators for breakfast (through the power of Social Media, we had prearranged a meet-up before our White House tour), however, DC traffic ruined those plans for me. I checked the time as I parked my car and realized I had just enough time to get to the tour check-in gate, so I decided to head straight for the WH.

After a very thorough security check-in process, I finally walked in the doors of the East Wing, where tour guides were escorting everyone to the South Lawn for a very “special event.” Had no idea what this could be, since the local news program that was on TV while I was getting ready said that President Obama was going to be in Arkansas that day visiting the towns struck by the latest tornadoes. Maybe we’d get to see the First Lady? Sasha and Malia?

After waiting in the corral and taking pictures for about 15 minutes, the president’s helicopter came flying straight at us from the south and landed 50 yards away right on the lawn! Everybody starts looking at each other and saying the same thing, Yeah, I think we’re going to see the President. And we sure did.

South Lawn
A view of the South Lawn from the White House
WH Selfie
I took several “selfies” on this trip, this one is in front of the White House
Helicopter
The Presidential Helicopter
President Obama
President Obama walking out to his helicopter in front of the White House. Waving to the President as he waves goodbye to all of us was such a neat experience!

After President Obama lifted off, and his helicopter – and escorting helicopters – were out of sight, we looked at our watches and phones. Wow! It is already 11:10 and we have to be at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (next door) at 11:20! Can you say, “shortest White House tour ever”? The dozen of us flew through the tour, glancing at this and peeking in to see that. Will I remember much of what I saw inside the house? Probably not. But having that experience on the South Lawn made it all worth it.

We got out of the tour and took a few more selfies in front of the White House:

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And then it was time to head over to the Eisenhower Executive Building:

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For those of you who don’t know (because I didn’t know) the Eisenhower Executive Office Building is where the VP and his staff work, in addition to several other White House department heads and operations. After another thorough security check-in process, we were given our official EEOB badges and made our way to Room 276. We walked in, charged our phones, and sat down to await the arrival of our first host, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

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Here, Secretary Duncan is listening very closely to our concerns about the lack of “great teachers” inside our schools and the flocks of amazing educators who are leaving the profession.

 

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What makes a great teacher? “A combination of head and heart.” – Sec. Duncan

 

Duncan Group Shot
Group shot with Secretary Duncan. I am standing on my tippy-toes right in front of him!

After Secretary Arne Duncan left, we were visited by several other education advisors, including Eric Waldo, the FLOTUS’s Executive Director of the Reach Higher Initiative. He spoke to us about this program’s mission to expose students to college-related experiences early in an effort to ensure ALL students know they CAN go to college. We also met with Kumar Garg, the Senior Advisor to the Deputy Director at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (he talked about spreading the word about Maker Spaces and joining the WH in the Maker Faire later this year), and Rory Brosius, the Deputy Director of Joining Forces (US Military family support program). 

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Eric Waldo

After Rory left, it was time for lunch and a photo op with the Second Lady, Dr. Jill Biden! We walked down the hallway to her office, were formally introduced to her, and then took pictures. After we snapped a few photos in her office, we went back to grab our cute, boxed lunches, which included a choice of meat or veggie (I chose turkey) on a fresh, delicious piece of multigrain bread, a granny smith apple, chips, and my favorite, cookies! (Sorry, I can’t help it. I’m a foodie.)

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This was probably the highlight of my professional career thus far. So cool!
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Dr. Biden came to our luncheon to talk about teacher appreciation. She encouraged us to email her with ideas to lift up teachers!

Dr. Biden was on a tight schedule and couldn’t stay too long, unfortunately. The WH staff still had one surprise left for us, though! Since the rain had cleared, they invited us back to the White House lawn to visit the Obamas’ garden and meet one of the WH chefs!

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The garden was THRIVING after the rain!
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Chef Susie explaining the First Lady’s request to use honey, instead of sugar, in the foods at the WH. As a pastry chef, Susie and her team knew they would have to make their pastries and sweets as healthy as possible, so they installed a beehive on the WH property. This beehive is home to 60,000+ bees!

We took one last group photo before leaving the White House, and each other…

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This day will be one that I will forever remember. I am so thankful that I was chosen to take part of this event with this amazing group of teachers. Not only did I have the opportunity to meet some historical leaders in the realm of US education, but I also learned a lot, and most importantly, I met some wonderful educators who have become the newest extension of my teacher-network. They are terrific professionals whom I admire and look forward to collaborating with in the future!

For more fun photos and details about our day, please check out this White House blog.

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