A Queen Village youngster attended a leadership forum in the nation’s capital.
Taylor Belton aspires to be a choreographer, but last week allowed history to begin its dance into her heart.
The 11-year-old student at William Meredith School, 725 S. Fifth St., joined more than 100 honorees at the six-day People to People World Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., a reward for her academic endeavors, civic efforts and leadership prospects. The adventure added her name to the thousands that have earned guidance in promoting cultural understanding and world peace since People to People’s 1956 institution.
“I was surprised but excited,” the resident of the 700 block of South Fifth Street said of learning early last year of her nomination by Dr. Anita Aguilar, her fifth-grade teacher.
Her acceptance came shortly after, leaving Taylor and her mother Aisha Belton with the task of covering the program’s tuition. Families can choose a feasible session, so the two selected the June 20 to 25 forum to prevent much interference with school. She received minimal exposure to irony in attending a gathering so history heavy, as the spectacled youth does not count becoming familiar with the past among her pursuits.
“The facilitators made the time more interactive, so I was able to have more fun,” the honor roll student said.
Her enjoyment began each day with bus trips from Herndon, Va. Her first time being away from home prompted tears from her mother, but Taylor made her stay about smiles.
“I had never heard of People to People, so I was ready to experience everything, including making friends,” she said.
Friendships came quickly, as Taylor fraternized with multiple groups and started bonds with residents of six other states. Her packed schedule made becoming chummy with the annals of time easy, too, as she often experienced 14-hour days. Each day possessed a theme that coincided with the World Leadership Forum’s emphasis on the last 150 years of American history.
With prominent roles in her school’s choir, dance ensemble and plays, Taylor warmed to the task of engrossing herself in the lives of others who have made facing the foreground their calling.
“I think I am a leader because I will help anyone,” she said. “I am smart, honest, responsible and respectful.”
Her main exposure to people deserving of those and similar adjectives began on her second day with an exploration of Capitol Hill. Through Kenneth T. Walsh, the chief White House correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, she became more knowledgeable of the divisions of the U.S. government and stopped at the Supreme Court, its judicial branch. The rest of the day yielded a visit to The Library of Congress and the favorite aspect of her pilgrimage, dinner at The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.
“I liked the clothing,” she said of the authorities’ distinctive garb.
While wardrobes wowed her eyes, the edibles stuffed her stomach.
“I had salad, chicken, lemon rice and pomegranate and mousse cakes,” she said. “Everything was delicious.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the U.S., began the People to People movement to prove that ordinary citizens are as instrumental in securing world peace as elected officials are. Having served as supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II, the Texan knew the perils of conflict and wanted the world to advance constructive ideas instead of destructive armies.
He enjoyed most of his final years in Gettysburg, maintaining a home and a farm now dubbed the Eisenhower National Historic Site. Taylor and her cronies spent the latter half of their third day exploring the two. Examinations of Gettysburg National Military Park comprised the other portion, as she canvassed the battlefield where, between July 1 to 3, 1863, more than 165,000 troops engaged in the Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the American Civil War.
“I had been to most of the sites in Washington, but Gettysburg was new and exciting,” Taylor said, adding that she was able to do additional sightseeing in the Adams County borough.
Her appreciation for the past’s influence on the future deepened on the fourth and fifth days.
“The fourth day was really long,” she said with a smile.
Stops at Arlington National Cemetery, the Eternal Flame, the Tomb of the Unknowns, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of America History, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the World War II Memorial certainly schooled and exhausted the students, who capped the day with another scrumptious dinner and a leadership meeting.
“I enjoyed the team-building exercises and discussions we had because they let us know we could all contribute and all have a voice,” Taylor, who cites her mom, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama as her favorite leaders, said.
Her final day offered a chance to gain insights from Mrs. Obama’s predecessor, Laura Bush, a figure well-versed in serving as a leader from her former role as a teacher.
“She told us not to back down even when we think being a leader is difficult,” Taylor said.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq link the Bush and Obama presidencies, so Taylor and the others composed letters to the conflicts’ soldiers as their community service project. The day also featured stays at the International Spy Museum, the Marine Corps War Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. A rollicking dinner-and-dance cruise on the Potomac River served as the participants’ final excursion.
Taylor ventured home Saturday with gratitude in her heart and a certificate of completion in her hand. The latter may land her extra credit or serve as documentation to meet Pennsylvania’s and the School District of Philadelphia’s Certificate of Academic Achievement requirements in reading, writing, social studies and/or service learning.
Jenna Makuen appreciates the entire learning experience when she fraternizes with her second-grade peers and authority figures at William M. Meredith School, 725 S. Fifth St. The vivacious girl enjoys art, but as the School District of Philadelphia contends with consistent debt, her creative pursuits soon could dry up.