People are always surprised when I tell them that the students on my trip are unchaperoned. They check in with us in person at the beginning and end of each day and we do some activities together, but for most of the time, these high school sophomores, juniors and seniors are all alone in the Big Apple. They are required to check in via text message several times a day and they send me and the other teacher chaperones selfies from all over – Ground Zero, Times Square, Soho, Greenwich Village, Central Park. I admit I’m nervous until I count them on the bus ride home, but I think New York is a very safe city, they stay in groups, and they are smart enough not to engage in truly risky behavior.
Our final night activity is always a visit to Dangerfield’s Comedy Club, where the comedians skirt the inapropro line and the kids get teased, to their delight. This year one of the comedians was asking a student what he wanted in a girlfriend and the senior replied, “I don’t care, as long as she’s not a [See You Next Tuesday].” I stood up and yelled at him across the club, “That’s NOT all right.” After the show we had a meaningful discussion about that word. I’m going to call it a learning experience for all.
I believe children and teens learn through experience. Last week they learned how to get around a huge city, by cab, subway or on foot. They learned to budget their money. They learned to trust their instincts. They learned that most of the world doesn’t live the way they do. They learned their lives are full of possibilities.
I also believe children and teens learn from literature and art. One night we all went to see the Broadway show, Kinky Boots. The show is about a young man who must save his family’s shoe company, and does so by making boots for drag queens. The overt lesson of acceptance – of others and of self – is maybe the only thing I care about teaching students.
If they learned a little about journalism along the way, well that’s just a bonus.