Students at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School are about to experience life in the big city.

Students at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School are about to experience life in the big city.

On March 15, art teacher Julie Hodges took 36 students to New York City to experience art and culture during a three-day trip.

Plans for the Big Apple began last year when Hodges took a group of gifted art students to her old stomping grounds of Atlanta, Ga. They spent several days exploring museums and visiting the local branch of the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Hodges said that the reason for the Atlanta trip was two-fold. She wanted to expose students to artistic installations but also get them outside of their comfort zone.

“There are students who haven’t left a five-hour radius of Port St. Joe,” said Hodges. “During the Atlanta trip some students, who had never seen a city before, teared up.

“I think they gained a lot from it.”

Though the first trip had just 20 students in attendance, those students came back and shared the experience with their friends and demand for a second trip reached a boiling point.

After deciding on the next destination, each student had to apply for the trip and needed to acquire teacher recommendations. It took more than a year of planning and fundraising to make the impending adventure a reality.

Throughout the year, students participated in fundraisers that included donut sales, fish fries and selling school-themed merchandise. Since each student had to raise $1,700 for the trip, some even got their first jobs in order to help pay a price tag that would cover all accommodations, entertainment and travel.

Hodges said the experience gave students the opportunity to set a goal and then work hard to attain it. While some students are passionate about art and others simply wanted to travel. Hodges noted that most of them are completely terrified and excited about what’s coming.

“It’s the chance of a lifetime,” said Hodges. “There’s so much diversity in New York and it has the largest concentration of museums in the United States.

“It’s something that most of them have only seen in the movies.”

Students will be treated to a walking tour 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 a strong dose of culture, students will visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum.

Fifteen adults and school board member Linda Wood will also make the trek to NYC. For added safety, the group will have its own security detail.

For Hodges, who has made numerous trips to the Big Apple, her excitement stems from sharing the experience with her students.

“I’m more excited about seeing their reactions,” said Hodges. “That’s the perk of having been there a few times.”

Hodges hopes that there will be another trip next year, but she’s unsure of the destination. She said that in a perfect world, she’d love to take students overseas.

“I’m a hands-on teacher,” said Hodges. “If I can drop a bunch of kids from a small town into a big city and expose them to art, culture and theatre, I will.

“I want them to see what’s out there.”