Martha’s Vineyard students get a taste of the Big Apple

A visit to the 9/11 memorial provided a sobering reminder of a national tragedy. — Photo by Elaine Weintraub

For the second year in a row, a group of 13 Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students traveled from Martha’s Vineyard to Manhattan as part of the “Two Islands, One World” cultural exchange.

The students in the One World Program — three seniors, five juniors, and five sophomores — attended classes at the High School of Economics and Finance in Manhattan, toured culturally significant sites in New York, and along the way, learned a great deal about how to function in a diverse world on their path to cultural competency.

As Vineyarders venturing off-Island often do, our students craved fast food. But there were a few surprises. Jeremy Alley of Vineyard Haven fantasized all night about the breakfast bagel he planned to buy in the morning at the Dunkin’ Donuts by our hotel.

He was very surprised when his bagel arrived with soy bacon. Only then did he realize the significance of a small sign in the window that read, “kosher food served here.”

The vast bustling streets of Manhattan teemed with people from all over the world. Multiple languages could be heard all around as we walked for miles.

David Da Silva of Vineyard Haven enjoyed the opportunity to observe New York City’s diverse culture as he went. Reflecting on the experience, he said, “Walking in New York was an education about people everywhere.”

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and the new Freedom Towers was memorable for our group of intrepid travelers as was the Museum of Tolerance at the Wiesenthal Center where they worked with their New York counterparts on an interactive program about how to deal with prejudice.

Reflecting on the Museum of Tolerance, Serogia Bernier of Chilmark said, “It’s kind of amazing to me that there is a whole museum dealing with this because there is all kinds of prejudice around us all the time and no one ever mentions it, so I think it’s very cool that this museum gives us a chance to talk about it.”

Bubble tea and customized yogurt sundaes were very popular with the girls in the group, but the young men preferred the authentic Macdonald’s milk shakes. The sunny, summer weather was the perfect environment.

Anais Bermudes of West Tisbury, a veteran of the One World cultural exchange, attempted to persuade Sophie Petkus of Chilmark to share her bubble tea, but Sophie remained a little suspicious of the tapioca bubbles. Food is a theme that works well with cultural exploration and meals of authentic pizza, New York bagels and various dishes in Chinatown were opportunities for the Vineyarders and the New Yorkers to get to know each other.

The entire group were very impressed with the African Burying Ground, a museum created over an ancient burying ground reserved exclusively for enslaved and free Africans that was actively used until the early 1700s. Our guide’s impassioned presentation and the interesting data he presented about the economic basis of enslavement captivated the group.

“Everyone should teach like that,” Jeremy Alley said with agreement from the entire group.

“Hearing those stories makes me understand what slavery was all about,” Sivana Brown of Oak Bluffs said. “It brought it all home to me.”

Patryck Nascimento of Vineyard Haven recognized many of the African artifacts as being everyday objects in Brazil. “This place moved me so much,” he said. “I don’t know why it moved me so much, but I know that I will never forget it.”

The half day spent at school in New York was interesting. “It’s not better, it’s not worse” said Ella Mahoney of Aquinnah. “Its just different. Their classes are very quiet and focused. Everyone works. They have a long lunch, and they stop to talk to each other in the hallways between classes. That would not happen at our school.”

The friendliness of New Yorkers was a surprise to our students. “They are from everywhere and they talk to everyone. I like that,” said Julio Brito of Vineyard Haven.

Mariah Campbell decided her most interesting experience was meeting the second camera man on the TV show, “Girls.”

“He was a really interesting person and I enjoyed talking to him. It was a glimpse into a different world,” she said.

The Vineyarders brought their own culture of small community kindness with them. One day, Cyrus Breese of Vineyard Haven helped a lonely woman to manage her cart in which she seemed to be carrying her worldly possessions.

The students spent four days rushing from one event to another and still managed to enjoy Broadway and get a glimpse of themselves on the giant screen in Times Square. The young One Worlders traveled on crowded subways, met young people from all over the world, recreated the Jewish immigrant experience, and wrestled with the huge ethical questions that surrounded the Holocaust and the history of Enslavement.

“I liked everything. I liked the school and the food. The African Burying Ground was unforgettable,” Shavanae Anderson of Oak Bluffs said. “I liked the synagogue we saw with the beautiful windows. There is so much to know in this world and I am glad that I came to New York.”

Elaine Cawley Weintraub is the chairman of the high school history department. Funding for the project was provided by the MV Cultural Council, MVNAACP, Rotary Club of Martha’s Vineyard and community donors.