Islanders visit New York City in bridge-building trip

Vineyard students attended the Nets game in Brooklyn. — Courtesy of Elaine Weintraub

The One World Club was started four years ago at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School as an attempt to build a culturally responsive community. Each year it has sponsored the Brazilian-American Friendship Lunch and One World Day, which celebrates diversity. For the past three years the club has sponsored the One World/Islands of Tolerance exchange with the High School of Economics and Finance in Manhattan, New York. In 2012, nine students traveled to New York, and last year 14 participated. Last week, 29 students went to New York to visit the host school, learn about the diverse cultures of the city, and spend time in one of the most exciting cities on earth. The New Yorkers will visit the Vineyard in June to complete this year’s exchange.

We spent Monday morning at the High School of Economics and Finance meeting the New Yorkers who will visit in June. Our students shadowed their counterparts to all of their classes to get a taste of education New York style. “For me, this was the best part of our trip,” commented Keilla Geddis. “I really looked forward to meeting their kids and I really liked them — both the ones who are coming to visit us and the other students. I liked everything, but this was the best.”

After lunch we left the school and walked across the street to the 9/11 Memorial, after listening to the recollections of teachers who had been there on that fateful day. “I felt much more connected to that this time,” noted Jeremy Alley-Tarter, a One World group leader who has made the trip before. “When you stand and stare at that water and just think about what happened it becomes very real.”

Several members of our group agreed with that. Sophomore Marlla Lemos was uncharacteristically serious as she observed: “Standing here, you see all these names and I can’t help wondering: what was it for? What could be worth this?”

Our day continued with a visit to the Irish Hunger Memorial, a recreation of a ruined home and graveyard filled with Irish famine victims. Quietly evocative of another age and time, it sits amidst the bustle and frenzy of Battery Park.

Then back to school we went to eat a wonderful dinner prepared by the New York school parents and Social Studies teacher, Carlos Sosa. Our evening ended with a visit to Times Square where all the world seems to parade and where many of our students bought the latest fashions very cheaply at Forever 21. The only problem? Many students had the same dresses. “We will have to call each other to make sure that we don’t wear them on the same day,” noted Mikayla Reid.

On Tuesday morning we headed out from our Upper East Side hotel to Chinatown. On a glorious spring morning, our students mastered the technique of bargaining for items such as sun glasses, perfume, earrings, tee-shirts, and drank “bubble tea” with the assurance of city slickers.

We left the commercial delights of Chinatown and headed to a place of reflection. The African Burial Ground is a museum built over a burial ground dating back to the 17th century. It is an interactive museum with maps of the world showing the routes the people of Africa took throughout the Americas, and where students get an opportunity to try for themselves some of the backbreaking work that was expected of enslaved people. Cristiane Ramos spontaneously embraced a life-sized model of an African woman shown burying her child. “I wanted to put my arms around her and tell her how sorry I felt for her life, and that it would someday be better.”

We walked through the sunny streets past New York’s great City Hall, where we met a bride leaving hand in hand with her new husband. I think our cheers added to the joy of her day.

Our next stop was the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance where we were joined by our host students. This was a favorite spot for Katherine Reid. “I liked the issues we talked about. I was really glad that in addition to talking about racism and anti-Semitism we talked about sexism. Women are so often ignored and that is subtle, but it’s everywhere, and so damaging. I am glad it was acknowledged here.”

Our group separated into those who were going to the Nets game in Brooklyn with chaperones Josh Burgoyne and Andrew Vandall and those who were going to the theater with Anne Caldwell and myself. Both groups were joined by members of the High School of Economics and Finance and some of their students. Fortunately both groups felt that they got the best of the deal. The Nets won, and “The Charlatan,” starring illusionist Vinny De Paolo, was voted a huge success.

One thing we all learned was that to get around New York involves miles of walking or jam-packed subway trains. But where else would a group of admiring students be able to pose for their photographs in front of the Cake Boss Café and ponder the fame of Buddy Velastro, the cake boss himself?

We were met with kindness both from our host school and from the city that seemed to smile on us. We are looking forward to welcoming our New York counterparts in June when we will show them a sample of Island life.

Elaine Cawley Weintraub is the history department chairman at MVRHS and the originator and leader of the One World program.