Some spring breakers head for warmer climates, but a group of Port St. Joe students took the opposite approach.
Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School art teacher Julie Hodges took 36 students to New York City over spring break to experience art and culture during a three-day trip.
While some students had never left a five-hour radius of Port St. Joe, Hodges was excited to have them thrust into a new environment and they stepped off the bus for the first time on Fifth Avenue, New York’s famous shopping mecca.
“It was neat to see the upper-end stores,” said Caitlin Godwin. “You don’t think they really exist and then…there they are!”
The group spent large amounts of time walking, talking, experiencing and eating throughout their trip, eager to take in all of the things not typically found in Gulf County.
“I went for the experience,” said Sophia Harrison. “I knew I couldn’t do something like this on my own.”
“I wanted to see things in person that I’ve only seen on TV,” added Morgan Butts. “It was great to see the Statue of Liberty--something so historically significant.”
“I wanted to experience the culture,” said Bailey Amison. “There are so many nationalities and it’s crazy that things are so different just one street over.”
Fifteen adult chaperones accompanied the students on the adventure and a full-time security officer was provided. The group also made time to brave chilly northern weather to explore other famous destinations that included Little Italy, Chinatown and Wall Street.
Additionally, students were treated to walking tours of Manhattan, a trip to the Empire State Building observatory, the 9/11 memorial, Times Square, Statue of Liberty, Central Park and a showing of The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. For an extra dose of culture, students visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum.
Butts said that the highlight of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was experiencing art from Greek and Chinese History, something she had studied in the eighth grade.
“I didn’t expect to enjoy Broadway as much as I did,” said Amison.
While the students admitted that the initial airplane ride was intimidating and that they assumed that everyone in New York City would be mean, they were pleasantly surprised by the experience and wished they could have stayed longer.
The students agreed that while everyone seemed to be in a hurry, everyone they encountered was very nice and enjoyed hearing a range of southern accents.
Ilianna Maestri, who has previously traveled to Mt. Rushmore and the Grand Canyon, proclaimed that she was ready to live in a big city, Harrison thought it might be fun to spend a year or two in NYC while Alayna Godwin called the Big Apple “a nice place to visit.”
“How the small town kids navigated in that city would impress you,” said Gulf County School Board Chair Linda Wood, who also accompanied the group on the trip. “We’re a small town, but we’re not small time.”
Wood said that the highlight for her was meeting up with Port St. Joe alumni Javarri Beachum on their first night in town. Though Beachum intended to eat dinner with the students and then meet up with friends, he spent time with the students and even accompanied them on their climb to the top of the Empire State Building.
Hodges said that due to demand for a 2015 trip, she had already decided on next year’s destination: Boston.