Often times I forget I spend my daily life on an island. Perhaps the relentless hustle of Manhattan overshadows the island effect that is so prevalent on Martha’s Vineyard. Life on the isle of Manhattan is fun, but island life in New England just soothes your soul. Life slows down. The sun feels different. The air smells fresher. Everything just relaxes. Well, not completely when your traveling companions include 25 sophomores and 3 co-workers.
Each year, students from our 10th grade participate in Islands of Tolerance, a cultural exchange program with Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. The program is focused on identity and what it means to be an “American”, utilizing curricular elements from Facing History and Ourselves, which aims to “engages students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism in order to promote the development of an more human and informed citizenry”.
We started our day at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (well, I started my day with a blissful 3 mile run). Students participated in a workshop of which a highlight was their discussion of various Mohammed Ali quotes. We visited different classes and headed off to walk around Vineyard Haven (aka eat ice cream) and eventually walk up to the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center. One theme that emerged in our time at the Hebrew center was the notion of being the “other” and we discussed what happens when you exclude groups of people. The speaker encouraged the students to think of their own family’s journey to the United States. He emphasized the importance of knowing your past and your own immigrant story, which is part of your story, but not the sole defining characteristic of your identity. Students were called upon to share their own immigrant story. Students who choose to share hailed from Guyana, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France, Barbados, Northern Ireland, Poland, and Trinidad. One aspect of working in NYC public schools that I’ve always cherished is the diversity of my school. Sharing stories are important, so they aren’t forgotten. As my students move forward to college and beyond, they will experience situations where there is a lack of diversity and they will become the “other”. I hope they remember these positive experiences and embrace their past as they craft their future and chart new territory, hopefully exploring other islands (see what I did there?). Also, listening to their immigrant stories made me realize, I need to learn more about my own family’s movement to New England from Western and Eastern Europe.
Next we visited horses. The highlight here, someone said, “Do you want to take this one?” and gave me the horse’s leash (I don’t know nor do I care if it’s a leash, perhaps a lead? Whatever, he’s my new best friend). Alright, we did more than visit with horses. We visited Martha’s Vineyard Community Horse Center, which is a non-profit community center to train Islanders in horsemanship and facilitate therapeutic equine counseling (check out this article for more information about them). While I made friends with Merlin the horse, the students were able to interact with and even brush the horses. I adore horses. I hope to see more animals tomorrow. We had our annual dinner at Orange Peel Bakery and made our pizzas. If you are on Martha’s Vineyard, please check them out, they do a pizza night on Wednesdays, just bring your own toppings! (Orange Peel is on Facebook). We headed to Menemsha beach for the sunset, and let the students run around on the beach. Here I got to meet up with my cousins and my cousin’s husband, as they are vacationing this weekend in their new island home! Good times. Off to bed early for more ice cream tomorrow, I mean, for more learning. And exploring. And the occasional ice cream.
Today I had orange pineapple, one scoop cone. Delicious.