Taking on the Big Apple: Silver Lining Trip 2020

In late February, seventh and eighth grade students from Goddard Scholars Academy at Sullivan Middle School in Worcester, Massachusetts embarked on an exhilarating Silver Lining trip to New York City. 

Before their trip, Michele Fulk, educator and group coordinator, said she hoped the experience would broaden students’ worldview and enforce the idea that we can find strength in our diversity and in our solidarity.

“Many of the students on this trip have never spent a night away from their parents, or in a hotel, let alone visited a major city without their families,” said Fulk. “We hope that this trip to New York City will spark wonder and amazement in our students and prompt them to think about all the varied possibilities their futures may hold.”

Fulk knew the trip was sure to be an unforgettable one, and afterwards said her students loved the feeling of independence they got.

“While they were amazed by all the wonderful activities we experienced, it was spending this end-of-the-day time with their friends, talking after lights-out, that they most enjoyed,” said Fulk, adding that the trip gave some of the students a better sense of the wide range of possibilities their futures could hold. “Especially for those who have not had the opportunity to travel, visiting a place like New York City and meeting all kinds of people who were not so different from them was a mind-expanding experience. The Broadway actor we spoke with was from a town not so far from us, and one of the tour guides at the Brooklyn Navy Yards had gone to school in Maine.”

These personal experiences gave students living and relatable examples of people who are doing very cool and interesting things. Fulk framed this trip around the theme of ‘recognizing and achieving excellence,’ which she said was perfectly to the students seeing Wicked on Broadway.

“As I looked at the faces of my students while the story unfolded, they were mesmerized by the music, the costumes, the set and the actors—excellence was all around us,” said Fulk. “After the show, one of my most shy students engaged me in a lengthy conversation about the family dynamics of Elphaba, her sister and their father. The story had touched her and gave us an opportunity to have a deep discussion.”

The expressions on students’ faces as they walked through Times Square, with all the lights, sounds and people, Fulk says, were priceless.

“It was exciting and frightening and a little overwhelming all at once; some of them even held onto each other. They also rode the subway and didn’t get lost,” Fulk remembered. “They got themselves ready and to breakfast on time at the hotel. I believe these experiences increased students’ confidence in their ability to navigate new experiences and the next time they are faced with an opportunity to do something new that’s a little bit scary, they will be more apt to take on the challenge.”

On the bus coming home, a chaperone heard some of the students talking.

“One student said: ‘Too bad we have to go back to school tomorrow and LEARN THINGS again.’ Another student, without an adult prompting said, ‘What do you think we have been doing all these three days?’” Fulk explained, noting students also participated in some team-building and reflection sessions, allowing students got to know each other better.

Also memorable was their visit to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

“Our middle school students were not alive when 9/11 happened. Although they have heard of it, most of them didn’t know much about it. Our visit to the 9/11 tribute museum filled in a lot of the gaps for them,” said Fulk, adding that they went on a walking tour which was led by a firefighter who was there that day and the wife of a firefighter who was killed on 9/11 brought the emotional and ongoing impacts of that day home for the students.” They learned how every aspect of the thoughtful design of the memorial has meaning.”

While the students were there, an anniversary memorial for those killed in the first World Trade Center attack took place across the plaza.

“The totality of the experience helped the students understand that the tragedies of that day caused ongoing personal impacts in addition to the geo-political impacts they study in history class or hear about on the news,” said Fulk, adding that it was wonderful that students did not need to have money to fully participate in every aspect of this trip. “Our group is very diverse socio-economically, and SYTA’s sponsorship made it possible for all of the students to experience the trip as equals.”

John Marshall, Tourism Development, Established Markets at NYC & Company said NYC & Company is keenly focused on student travel to the five boroughs, and that collaborating with EF Explore America to make the 2020 Silver Linings trip possible was a natural fit.

“Our hope is that in experiencing the City’s urban energy and melting pot of diversity, a lifelong desire to travel was sparked in the student attendees and their perspective on the world was forever altered,” said Marshall.

Reflecting on the trip, Fulk said she really valued the opportunity the trip gave her to see and interact with students in a completely different environment outside the classroom. She discovered some of her very quiet students could be witty and outgoing when they are out in the world and away from academic pressure and expectations, while some of her usually brash students could be very thoughtful when facing a new experience with friends.

“It was refreshing to see them interact with each other in situations where the main expectation for them was to be curious and enjoy the experience,” she said, adding that her relationships with her students on the trip are definitely deeper and more interesting post-trip.

Thank you to all of our partners who made this unforgettable opportunity possible:

NYC & Company
9/11 Tribute Museum
Academy Bus
American Museum of Natural History
Broadway Inbound
EF Explore America
Hard Rock Cafe
Holiday Inn Express Brooklyn
Hudson Yards
Merlin Entertainments
Planet Hollywood/Earl Enterprises
Student Watchers
Turnstile Tours
Wicked The Musical

Courtesy of SYTA. Photo courtesy of Brittany Petronella, NYC & Company.