They say that in education, as in life, one can operate from a place of fear or a place of love. If we never take risks and we never dream dreams, then life will be a controlled and rule-bound affair and it will lack magic. If learning can only happen when a student is sitting in a chair in a room listening to the voice of a teacher, then of what use are community service, field trips, celebration, or hands-on exploration? But we know in the 21st century that learning is not rote memorization — it is life-transforming, it stretches our experience and allows us to glimpse possibility. The One World Cultural Exchange program, now in its third year, is intended to provide experiential learning and build cultural competency. Its goal is to honor and share experiences recognizing our differences and honoring our dreams.
As part of that program, a group of 24 students with four of their chaperones traveled to the Vineyard from the High School of Economics and Finance in Manhattan, New York. The group had their first lesson when they missed the boat and so arrived two hours late at the welcoming cookout prepared by the Vineyard students, who visited the New York school in April. Once they arrived, the festivities began. Josh Burgoyne expertly grilled hot dogs and cheeseburgers, and watermelons were provided by Cronig’s. “I think that first night at the cookout was the best,” said student Francis Connolly. “It was so great to meet everyone again, but everything we did on the Vineyard was great.”
The following day, the New Yorkers came to the high school where they joined Vineyard students for a workshop led by Kate Hennigan and Andrew Vandall. They also attended academic classes, planting potatoes in the Irish History class garden and making pots with Brendan Coogan. Lunch was held at Tropical, a Brazilian restaurant in Vineyard Haven where student Patryck Nascimento negotiated a group price.
Following lunch, the New Yorkers were guests of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center where they learned about Jewish tradition, and from there they traveled up to the Aquinnah Cultural Center where Linda Coombes made a presentation about the history of the Wampanoag people on the Vineyard. Despite the heavy rain, they stopped at the Orange Peel Bakery where they reunited with many of the Vineyard students and enjoyed the stone-oven pizzas expertly made by Julieanne Vanderhoop. It was a rich day full of shared experience, storytelling, and the kind of learning that one remembers forever.
When the rain made a bonfire on the beach a dismal prospect that evening, Tony Lombardi welcomed the entire group to the Y.
The students had seen and heard so much, but student Rayanna Harduarsingh seemed to speak for many when she observed, “I have all these ideas and stories in my mind. I know now about the Brazilian food and the Native Americans on the Island, and I have seen the stone oven making those pizzas, but I think, for me, that the workshop where we learned about each other was the best.”
Friday morning for the New Yorkers began with attending classes at the high school and sampling the high school cafeteria lunch. Cultural exchange can be interesting: the visitors thought the food at the high school was so much better than their typical school cafeteria fare. On the other hand, the New Yorkers were used to an hour off for lunch, and juniors and seniors could leave to buy lunch. Everything is a trade-off, it seems. After lunch, the visitors traveled to the Shearer Cottage, the oldest African American owned guesthouse on the Island. Deborah Dixon Toledo, whose family has always owned the Shearer, was able to share the story of this historic home.
One of the most fascinating aspects of life on the Vineyard for the New York students was the yellow school bus. There are no school buses in New York and students travel from all over the city on the subway to get to school. Some of the students had only seen busses in films, and traveling on one was greatly enjoyed. They boarded their exotic yellow bus and headed off to Chappaquiddick where they were welcomed by The Trustees of Reservations to visit the Cape Poge Lighthouse. In glorious sunny weather, they reveled in the unspoiled beauty of Chappaquiddick.
The evening ended with a tour of Oak Bluffs and an opportunity to hang out with their Vineyard friends. My explanation that Oak Bluffs was our 42nd street was greeted with polite smiles. It seemed to be difficult to make that connection.
Saturday morning included bike riding, touring Morning Glory Farm, and traveling to the airport to board their plane to New York. “It was all incredible” said student Joel Cruz to cheers from his classmates. “I know I will be back, maybe this summer.”