The eighteenth annual eighth grade Civil Rights Trip started off, as usual, with opening remarks from Herb Brown.
Mr. Brown has been Gordon's motor coach driver for many years, and he has developed high expectations for Gordon students.
His hope? That the students "learn what you need to learn from the past, for the future."
This week, he is looking for them to make a direct connection between the past and the present day: "There's a sense of loss, and there are gains. What you all need to gain on this trip is a sense of how not to do some of the things that are coming back around in 2019, unfortunately. It is going to be on you as leaders to not let those things continue."
Having established his high expectations for the students, he drove them directly to a playground.
The trip was running twenty minutes early.
The group used the time wisely at Atlanta's Centennial Park.
Gordon demands a lot from Middle Schoolers, but the school never forgets that they are children.
They work hard.
They play hard.
They know how to blow off steam.
The first official stop of the eighteenth annual Civil Rights Trip was Atlanta's Morehouse College.
The tour was hosted by the admission office, and Gordon's tour guides conducted it as a full blown college tour.
The Gordon students, who are preparing to be ninth graders at new schools in the fall, were full of precocious questions about dorms, food, athletics and community service requirements.
Most years, the Civil Rights Trip has included at least one historically black college: Morehouse College, Spelman College, Tuskeegee University, Alabama State University.
For most of the Gordon students, the white ones as well as the students of color, it is their first time they've been at a school that is mostly black.
Morehouse is an especially stereotype-defying place to have that experience.
As one Gordon student said, as a small group walked across the street from all-male Morehouse to all-female Spelman College, "it must be so refreshing to go here, and know that everyone knows what it means to be black."
Or as their Spelman host said: "When I was little, I was the weird smart black girl. And I knew I wanted to go to Spelman. And yes, it is wonderful to be somewhere where everyone is black and smart and female."
The next stop was Montgomery, Alabama, where the group will spend the next two nights.
Guide Ann Clemons gave the group a two-hour orientation.
Montgomery's history is deep, and much of it happened in public.
A trip down the streets can be dizzying.
On one corner, there's Rosa Park's bus stop, and a story that's easy to sentimentalize.
On the next block, there's the final stop of the Freedom Riders's bus trip, where they were beaten bloody in the streets.
Montgomery is proud of all of this history, and more.
Tomorrow and Wednesday, eighth graders will dig deeper into that history - and the work of present-day activists - at the Southern Poverty Law Center and at the museums that have grown out of the work of Bryan Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative.
Day one concluded with a feast.
Before the food was served, each one of the thirty-seven students spoke briefly about their thoughts on the day.
It was seven pm, and they had toured two large cities that day, in two time zones, traveling by airplane, bus and train.
The day had begun at 3am.
And yet, they met Mr. Brown's challenge from the morning, bringing their best selves to the conversation and showing great patience and mutual respect.
And then, finally, they ate fried chicken, rice, black eyed peas, green beans, cabbage, baked chicken, meatballs, spaghetti casserole, corn bread, mac and cheese, sweet potatoes and apple cobbler.
Dinner concluded with boisterous arm wrestling matches.
It was a perfect ending for a trip that sets high expectations, without forgetting that childhood is meant to be fun.