After departing the Island, 18 Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School students and their seven chaperones landed in Rome on April 8 and hit the streets.
In their first day they visited the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, picnicked in Villa Borghese gardens, climbed the famous Spanish Steps, explored the Pantheon, stood in the mist of the Trevi fountain, and ate gelato. And that was just day one.
The following two days in Rome were similarly full and rich with stops at the Vatican museum, St. Peter’s Basilica and a climb to the top of the dome, a walk across Rome and the bridge of Angels to the Piazza Navona, and a stop for dinner down one of the narrow streets of the old city. The last day in Rome started with an exploration of the Capitoline museum. In small teams the students fanned out to discover a favorite artifact, sculpture, or painting. In small teams they fanned out to discover a favorite artifact, sculpture or painting. After which each member of the group led part of a “lightning tour” through the oldest public museum in the world, stopping to briefly describe their find.
And how could they go to Rome and not time-travel to ancient times through stops at the Colosseum, the Palatine hill, and the Forum?
In Florence, the students toured the Uffizi gallery and said “Ciao” to Michelangelo’s “David” in the Academia. At the top of the hill on the north side of town, the group looked down from Fiesole at all of Florence. They could identify Brunelleschi’s monumental Duomo and Giotto’s masterpiece, the bell tower.
At the end of a long day in Florence they took a leisurely nighttime stroll on the Ponte Vecchio with the moonlight flickering on the Arno.
The annual eighth grade trip was inaugurated in 2002. It continues to be led by Charter School Social Studies teacher Jonah Maidoff whose connections to Studio Art Centers International, good friends, and colleagues help make the trip successful.
Part of the beauty of the trip is that it combined urban streets abuzz with zipping Vespa motor scooters with rural landscapes abuzz with bees. To get a true flavor of Italy it is important to spend some time in the country. Mixed into the Rome and Florence combo were stops in the Tuscan countryside.
In Orvieto, a small gem of a town, the students stood in awe of Signorelli’s masterpiece, “The Last Judgment,” in the cathedral and later slunk through the mysterious, ancient underground passages that honeycomb under the town. From Florence, day trips brought variety to the experience. One was to the Tuscan coast, where they hiked along the Cinque Terre on olive-tree covered, terraced hills that slope dramatically down to the bright blue Mediterranean sea.
The climax of the 11-day trip is always the human connections made with the people of San Giovanni V’al D’Arno where students meet up with pen pals, Italian students of the Istituto Comprensivo Marconi. Charter School students continue corresponding with their friends in Italy via a special face-book group set-up for the purpose. In San Giovanni, rather than bunking in at another hostel, the students were welcomed into Italian homes for two nights to experience real Italian hospitality and home cooking. During the day, students join in classes and games at the school.
Part of the welcome in San Giovanni includes special gifts presentations and speeches. The Vineyarders were given crystal bowls from the cooperatively owned glass works IVV and virgin olive oil, pasta, and sauce from the The Circolo Arci Bani.
The mayor, the cultural minister, and school principal officially welcomed the Charter School students, teachers, and chaperones. This year with the Boston marathon attacks occurring at the same time as the group arrived in San Giovanni, the speeches took on special significance. The welcome offered sincere expressions of concern, love, and hope for peace and healing.
Paul Karasik is development director at the Charter School. He compiled this account of the trip based on the reports of students, teachers, and chaperones.