New York high school students receive a taste of Island life

Photo by Elaine Weintraub

In April, for the second year in a row, a group of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) students traveled from Martha’s Vineyard to Manhattan as part of the “Two Islands, One World” cultural exchange. Last week, Martha’s Vineyard hosted the New Yorkers.

Now in its second year, the One World cultural exchange program between MVRHS and the High School of Economics and Finance in New York is based on a simple, but profound, concept, “Don’t judge another person until you have walked a mile in their moccasins.” With that as its guiding principle, the exchange program has sought to introduce Vineyard students to life as it is lived in New York through a series of activities and then to bring students from New York to Martha’s Vineyard to experience a way of life vastly different from their own.

On June 6, a group of 25 students and five chaperones flew into Martha’s Vineyard Airport. Their visit began at the Hebrew Center where Max Jasny had coordinated a program that included meeting elder Ruth Stiller, who shared stories of her childhood on the Vineyard and an opportunity to examine the Torah.

From there it was a bus journey with eight of their host students to the Orange Peel Bakery in Aquinnah where Julie Vanderhoop, whose daughter, Ella, had participated in the visit to New York, heated up her massive stone oven. Students from both schools got an opportunity to mingle while making their own customized pizzas.

Visiting New Yorkers experimented with walking on a tightrope in the yard while local students drifted in to join the party. New Yorker Nicole Marin made several attempts at walking the tight rope and eventually succeeded with a little help from her friends.

“I love the way everyone here seems to know each other,” Nicole said. “It’s a lot more free than in New York where you have to be careful and keep to yourself.”

Later that evening, the students went to West Basin beach where Islanders Julio Brito, David Da Silva, and Jeremy Alley Tartar joined forces to make a fire. Within moments, Jose Reynosa of New York joined the fire makers while everyone else collected driftwood. Working on something together broke down barriers of shyness and soon everyone was toasting smores over an impressive beach fire. Some of the New Yorkers were a little skeptical about this confectionary, but the evident delight of the Vineyarders as they melted marshmallow and chocolate won over even the most skeptical.

The following morning found most of the High School of Economics and Finance students in Josh Burgoyne’s room watching members of the entrepreneurship class make their presentations. Visiting student Myung Jin Cha said that this was her favorite part of the trip. “I really liked Mr. Burgoyne’s class,” she said. “It was really interactive and everyone got to speak and present their work. It was not just reading out of a text book and taking a test about it. Everyone in the room was really involved.”

The visit to the Island school impressed many of the students with the opportunities offered by the vocational program. “I really like your school,” said Faith Currenti. “Kids have an opportunity to learn all kinds of things like building and fixing cars. Those are good trades for students for the future.”

That view was echoed by several of the visiting students who were impressed by the quality of the programs offered and the chance for students to create their own educational plan. The day continued with a tour that included a visit to Cynthia Bermudes’s farm in West Tisbury. The baby goats were voted by both groups of students as being “really cool.”

At the Teen Center at the YMCA, director Tony Lombardi and Jai Berger provided music and access to the Xboxes. The students enjoyed their visit and the opportunity to play games, listen to music, and relax. Navin Rambharose reconnected with Island friends Patryck Nascimento and Serogia Bernier.

On Saturday morning the students traveled on the beach to the Cape Poge lighthouse on Chappaquiddick. Again, the sense of freedom and space seemed to impress the visitors. “I love it here” said Jose Reynosa. “When I make a lot of money I am going to come back here and have a house like the ones we saw and be able to look at that view all the time.”

Dominic Di Pietra agreed. “I like being able to go outside and see so much space and being able to have fires on the beach. I will come back here. I know I will.”

Other activities included an evening out in Oak Bluffs, a bike ride to Morning Glory Farm from the youth hostel where they stayed, and a trip to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Their overall impression was that the Vineyard is a beautiful place, the regional high school has impressive facilities, and that Island students work much more outside of school than do their New York counterparts. And so, a group of Vineyard students and their big city partners took a few days this year to walk in each others’ moccasins.

Elaine Cawley Weintraub is the chairman of the MVRHS History Department. The program is made possible by grants from the MV Cultural Council, the Rotary Club, the MVNAACP with support from the Island community, Constance Messmer and Stephen Bernier, and Chilmark Chocolates.