You would have to move at the speed of a New Yorker to do what Heritage Middle School teacher Amy Carter, 55 students and 43 parents and grandparents did recently. And that’s what happened.
Carter teaches chorus and drama at HMS and has been taking students on annual trips to New York City for 13 years.
"This is only the second year we’ve chartered two buses for the trip," says Carter. She was a little nervous about the larger-than-usual crowd but says it worked out fine.
After a 15-hour bus ride, the students disembarked in the Big Apple and immediately headed to a Broadway workshop in which actors coached them through a segment of the Broadway play they were going to attend later. This year, the production was "Aladdin."
"The students learned a song and a dance from the show," says Carter, "then they got to go see it performed by the cream of the crop, including the people who just taught them. It was an amazing experience."
While the workshop and Broadway play were certainly a highlight of the three-day trip, they were just the tip of the ice berg.
"We pack everything into three days that we can fit," says Carter. This year, that included trips to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the 9-11 Memorial, Central Park, Times Square, China Town, Little Italy, Saint John the Divine Cathedral and Grand Central Station. And somehow there was time for shopping and ice skating.
But Carter says there’s something even more important to her than the fun and cultural experience. "These trips are times for the students to build relationships. Most of them have a parent or grandparent along, and I love watching how the adults and kids interact with one another and create memories and bonds they’ll never forget."
Carter helps things along by making a "no devices" rule for mealtimes. "I want the kids talking to each other about what they’re experiencing – and parents and kids talking to each other."
Carter also tries to spend time with each family throughout the trip, sometimes on the buses, sometimes at restaurants. She asks each person what their favorite part of the trip has been to that point. "For the adults this year, it was the Statue of Liberty and the 9-11 Memorial. It’s sobering to see these things in person. Even for the kids, who weren’t born yet when 9-11 happened, it helped history come off the page and made it real for them."
For the kids, says Carter, the whole trip was incredible. "They got to see that there’s a great big world out there. It opens their eyes to a lot of possibilities."
Planning for the annual trips begins early each school year. The cost this year was $800 a person and students and families had to raise the money themselves. Carter encourages families to start saving early. She suggests to students that they do odd jobs, ask people to give them money rather than gifts for holidays, and she helps them conduct fundraisers, like selling Yankee candles. "This is another aspect of our trips that teaches students important lessons – how to plan and save, how if you want something bad enough you have to work for it."
A favorite memory of this year’s trip for Carter was the boat ride to Ellis Island. "I saw a mother and daughter sitting together just talking and enjoying each other’s company. I got to help create that opportunity for them. It’s worth all the time and hard work."
Back home, students are rehearsing for their own performance. The Heritage Middle School Chorus and Musical Theater Department will be performing Disney’s "Mulan Jr." on May 4 and 5, 7:30 p.m. each day, at Heritage High School. The community is invited to attend. Tickets will be available at the door: $8 for adults and $6 for students and seniors.