Whitefield Academy Blog
New York State of Mind: Tenth Grade in NYC
At Whitefield Academy, experiences outside the classroom are vital to classical education. Upper school students alternate cultural trips with mission trips each year to see and serve the world together. These trips inevitably broaden minds, start conversations, and bolster relationships. Here is one account of many.
And So It Begins…
On a Saturday morning in April, 16 high school sophomores, two teachers, and four parents tied matching green ribbons on suitcases and boarded a plane, armed with a full itinerary and enormous expectations. For months, the kids and chaperones had researched and planned the seven days we would spend together. I was both excited and anxious to be included on my daughter’s first cultural trip. I envisioned long fun-filled days, sleepless nights, and crowded hotel rooms. I was right—but had greatly underestimated what lay ahead. We landed at LaGuardia and hopped on shuttles for the Salisbury Hotel. The ride was long, punctuated with gasps as we looked out windows—and with laughter as we played Hinky Pinks, a word game. The 45 minute ride was the prologue to our unfolding and unforgettable story.
On the Go
I later tried to list all we had seen and done. My recollections are not exhaustive and are more video than snapshot because we were always on the move: Following our guide through China Town, huddling on sidewalks to eat dumplings and rolled ice cream. Traipsing up a hill in the rain from the Met to the Cloisters, overcome with beauty and fatigue. Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge after a day of brunch, market shopping, river exploration, and more ice cream. Playing soccer in Central Park while part of our group circled us on bikes. Roaming through exhibits at the Museum of Natural History, the MOMA, and Ellis Island. Circling up outside the 9/11 Memorial as one mom told her own story of living in the city on that day. Praying for the people left behind. Posing for pictures on a Broadway stage with the Dear Evan Hansen cast—a cast who left us with the promise, “You will be found.” Seeing the city from the heights of the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock, the 16th floor of a Brooklyn apartment building, and the High Line.
Big City Moments
We filled our phones with photographs and videos, but I am confident we will remember most the small moments that felt even bigger than the skyscrapers that rose above us: The humanities teacher prodding us to take it all in as he fearlessly led us from the silence at St. Thomas Church to the chaos of Times Square. Our group gathering in the hotel lobby each morning to pray, read Scripture, hold hands, and declare “we love each other” before heading out. The young art teacher exhorting us that first night to take time to engage the city and its people, and later watching a student pray with a gentleman on the subway, a mom buy a slice of pizza for a man on the street, and small groups of students chat with older congregation members after worship. On the subway and on a ferry and on foot, we talked about immigration and high school angst and Jackson Pollock and soccer and fashion and lamb gyros and the fall of Saigon and Teddy Roosevelt. At the end of each day, we collapsed on beds and couches too tired to move, but too exhilarated to sleep. So we talked some more about we had seen and what we would see and where this class would journey senior year.
The Journey Isn’t Over
One student said that his highlight of the trip was “that there were no cliques.” I witnessed this as I watched kids move seamlessly from one small group to another and then squeeze 16 chairs around a table for dinner. We returned home tired and overwhelmed but not quite ready to leave the city or each other. These kids may not always remember accurately the details of each day, but I am confident they will remember the way they felt as they moved through the city as the class of 2019. You can’t put a price on a journey like this or create a curriculum to reproduce it. New York was a big, loud, messy classroom and a week-long social mixer. Months later, the students have well-worn metro cards and autographed playbills to document their sophomore trip, but it’s the stories they tell—both their own and those belonging to people encountered in real time or through art and history—that draw them together. And they still—when gathered together in class and out—grab hands and shout “we love each other.”