Veteran D.C. tour guide struggles to keep 80 eighth-graders occupied during shutdown

October 6, 2013

As a tour guide, Tim Krepp has a knack for handling the unexpected. Snowstorms and downpours are part of the gig. So are sick kids and jammed security lines. All can throw off a day’s schedule with no notice.

“I pride myself [on] dealing with unpredictable situations,” he said.

But a federal shutdown? This is a predicament that could fluster even the most unflappable guide, especially with more than 80 eighth-graders from Fort Worth arriving in the District for a week-long trip.

“It’s one thing with a hurricane. That is no one’s fault. But this doesn’t have to happen,” said Krepp, 39, who lives on Capitol Hill, writes a blog called DC Like a Local and has been leading tour groups for eight years. “This is a stupid problem to have, and I kind of resent having to deal with it. But we’ll make it work.”

Like other D.C. guides, Krepp must adapt as the shutdown stretches on. Can’t-miss destinations, including the Capitol and Smithsonian museums, will have to be missed. Along the way, the barricades and caution tape will turn into a live U.S. civics lesson.

“This is what you call the teachable moment,” said Michael Kris, a principal accompanying the Texas students from Trinity Valley School. “They can see the consequences of the lack of bipartisan cooperation. When they see the Lincoln Memorial and see that we can’t go up the stairs, we will have to have an interesting conversation.”

On Sunday, his group of eighth-graders arrived just past noon at Dulles International Airport, wearing gray plaid uniforms and toting suitcases stuffed with essentials for their six-day trip. There, they met Krepp and trip leaders from Grand Classroom, a Charlottesville-based national tour company that coordinated the schedule.

They’ve had to make a flurry of last-minute changes. The Holocaust and Smithsonian museums, a tour of the Capitol and a trip to Antietam National Battlefield have all been scrapped.

Their first stop was to be Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve near Alexandria, a good place to let kids be kids and take a lunch break after a long flight.

But late Friday evening, Krepp realized that the preserve was part of the National Park Service, a federal agency, and was bound to be closed. Instead, the group went to Bull Run, a regional park in Centreville, about 20 minutes from the airport.

There, they threw a football and picnicked with box lunches of turkey sandwiches and potato chips.

After lunch, they headed to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate on the Potomac River, which remains open because of private funding. A gaggle of teen girls posed for group photos outside the house.

“Wouldn’t you want to live there?” one gasped.

A group of boys stopped to admire the statues of George and Martha Washington and their grandchildren. One grabbed George’s hand and gave it a firm shake.

For a seemingly carefree Sunday afternoon, the students had a lot to say about the political interference with their trip to the nation’s capital.

“Neither side will compromise,” said Jackson Key, 14, a self-proclaimed history buff. “[President] Washington warned about this in his farewell address.”

Jackson wasn’t the only student to reference history. Flavia Lima, 13, said her classmates have been studying compromises made during Antebellum and Civil War periods.

“I feel like we could learn from that. They’re not compromising,” Flavia said, referring to Congress. “Every proposition that’s being made is being torn down.”

Joey Cascino, 13, said that his fellow students watched the news last week with apprehension. With the car chase near the U.S. Capitol, the government shutdown and an impending tropical storm, it was a lot to handle. Some spoke of postponing the trip.

“But I thought about it, and we couldn’t be here in a better time,” he said. “We’re in history. We’re on the front lines.”

He’s still upset, though. He won’t get to see the Holocaust Museum, which he heard is a type of experience that “changes your life.” And since he was a little boy, he’d dreamed of walking the halls of the U.S. Capitol. He’s sad about missing that.

He shrugged his shoulders and went back to playing football at Bull Run. After about five minutes, Joey walked toward a group of teachers, wringing his hands.

“There’s something else I wanted to say,” he said, then comparing the shutdown to a bomb that explodes and causes far-reaching effects across the nation. “The bad thing about this is that it’s been indiscriminate.”

Amy Brittain is part of The Post's investigative team.
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