Parents, students, and staff as well as colleagues and connections in Italy coordinated travel, museums, activities, and host housing through our Sister School in San Giovanni Valdarno. Fundraising helped defray the cost, which included museum and archeological site entrance fees and several amazing meals.
Students in the travel group also signed on to take a weekly course about Italy we dubbed the “Italian Café.” The class focus was broadly cultural and historical and included how to conduct oneself in accordance with social norms, customs, and culture. The class even offered a taste of the Italian language, “grazie, prego, vorrei and dov’e il bagno?”
The persistent if quietly uttered question over the value of an international journey to Southern Europe for 14-year-olds has become less pronounced over time. After ten years and eight trips with Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School students I am convinced that the annual Italy trip is an extraordinarily powerful journey and an experience not wasted on the young.
Indeed, the pace and sheer distances covered on foot, buses, trains and funiculars, above and below ground require youth, if not at least a youthful spirit.
The students gather insights and experiences that will last them a lifetime. They discover that Italian people are welcoming, fun, and similar to themselves in many ways.
For many, the highlight of the trip was a visit with families in San Giovanni Valdarno, a town of about 18,000 people about 30 miles southeast of Florence. The students spent two nights with Italian families and attended school on Friday and Saturday. The Charter School students participated in math games and technology classes at our sister school the Istituto Comprensivo Marconi. They also played basketball and indoor soccer.
In Sergio Traquandi’s class of third-year students (8th grade), Italian students were comfortable with Adobe Autocad. The class was two hours long. One hour was spent drawing and working with professional drafting tools and the other hour was focused on using the CAD program to create a three dimensional object which would later be cut out by a lazer.
Student Sarah Chickering said that although I had told the students to get some rest on the night-long flight to Rome, “we were so anxious and excited none of us could! We were all amazed when we landed in Italy: it was so beautiful. We were basically in shock.”
Classmate Kyra Whalen wrote that she was nervous about going to Italy, but she was glad and happy that she had gone. “The art and architecture were amazing and the scenery was just beautiful. My host family and everyone I met there were the nicest people ever. I got a lot closer to my class because we were always together.”
Lila Jasny loved the first day in Rome. “We stuffed our suitcases into a pile in the hotel lobby and headed out. I was amazed by the architecture not only of the famous places but of the everyday shops and middle class houses. As we walked down the streets, I swore I would come to Rome again.”
Cassius Paquet-Huff wrote that his experience in Italy “…was absolutely breathtaking. The foods, sights, and people were all incredible. Everywhere we went was unique and beautiful. The rocky shores and mountains of Cinque Terre were without match in natural beauty. It was incredible visiting Siena, Rome, and Florence and seeing the art that people made. I’ll never forget my trip to Italy.”
Delilah Meegan said she loved Florence and climbing inside to the top of the Duomo. “I am very scared of heights and I overcame my fear. Then after we came down we circled up and sang in the rain – “Wade in the Water” right in front of the Baptistry.
For Tucker Cosgrove, his favorite part “was meeting all the Italian people. They were all very nice. My pen pal’s name is Stefano Cuccoli. He was 12, but he was pretty cool. I met a lot of people and made a lot of friends.”
Cyrus Kennedy found that the hike in Cinque Terre was impressive, “it was one of the coolest places I have ever been. The cliffs and mountains of Cinque Terre were incredible to look at and even more to climb. The towns in the mountains had some of the best food and nicest people I have ever met.”
“Italy was amazing: the food was delicious, the people were really nice, especially my pen pal… the awful plane ride was worth it,” said Isabelle Crawford who had worked through a fear of flying to take the eight-hour flight to Rome and nine back from Florence.
Jonah Maidoff, a social studies teacher and advisor, accompanied the students on their trip to Italy.