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Sue Bush
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Big Lessons Learned In The Big Apple

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Student Whitney Frost described a McCann high school New York City trip as "phenomenal."
North Adams - Some people believe that days spent memorizing text and mastering standardized tests delivers a quality education, for others, experience will always be the best teacher.

Charles H. McCann Technical High School junior Nick Richards said that a recent school trip to New York City delivered lessons he'll never forget.

"...You Realize They Lived There Through Everything"

The March 20-21 excursion included a visit to Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Reverence and sadness appear to surround the site in 2006, Richards said.

"This was my first time to the city," he said during an April 4 interview. "The first thing I imaged in my mind is what those buildings must have looked like as you went into the city. And when you get to Ground Zero, it's just all quiet. Even the people who are working around there are quiet."

The Ground Zero visit affected junior student Justin Wirtes at many emotional levels, he said.

"I'd never been there before," Justin said. "You thought about those massive buildings and how they fit into that space. You could imagine what it must have been like on the street, the soot, the smoke, the fire. It really impacted me. You look around at the people and you realize that they lived there during everything. It made me feel closer to them, even though I don't know them. And it makes me proud to be an American."

This key once opened a World Trade Center door, said student Melanie Neyland, whose father once worked at the buildings.
Senior Melanie Neyland once lived in the New York City area and her father once worked as an electrician at the WTC. He had left the job before the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, but the family connection to the buildings and the people inside was strong, Neyland said. As a youngster, she had gone to the Twin Towers and walked within the tall structures. She has a key that once opened a WTC door and she visited Ground Zero about two months after the attacks.

"It was still smoldering and there was a huge pile of debris," she said of the 2001 visit.

Emotion overcame her during the recent visit.

"As soon as I saw it, I got hysterical," she said. "It was that personal connection, that I'd been to places [inside the building] that other people hadn't, to know it's all gone, all the people are gone..."

Junior Whitney Frost said that, during a previous family trip, she saw the site from a distance. Being at the site provokes deep feelings, she said.

"It was overwhelming to me," she said. "You look around and you know that we all came together at that time. Even people that have gone by the site 100 times stop and pray for those who were lost. It makes you realize that no matter how big and solid and strong something is, it can be knocked down. It can be taken away."

The trip was the second yearly student school trip. About 63 students accompanied by teachers Katie West, John Elias, Perry Burdick, Justin Kratz, Rebecca Buck and Ed Allard and chaperones Mary Dabrowski and her daughter Sally Dabrowski traveled by bus to the city.

Senior Melanie Neyland termed the trip "well worth it."

The itinerary included visits to the American Museum of Natural History, a NBC Studios tour, planned trips to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, opportunities to visit St. Patrick's Cathedral and Rockefeller Center, and student participation as audience members for the MTV's popular televised "Total Request Live" broadcast.

Total Reality Check..Live

Wirtes, Neyland, Richards, and Frost were among the students who were admitted to the studio and watched a live performance by singer Shakira.

"You felt kind of famous, going through the places that so many others passed through," Wirtes said of the MTV visit.

While the experience was a lot of fun and worth repeating, a strong reality check was delivered as well, all four students said. For instance, what appears as a wildly spontaneous program is actually a well-orchestrated routine.

"We got in there, and they told us what to wear, where to sit, what to say and what not to say," said Frost. "I felt like I was going to jail...they took my lip gloss. They said I couldn't wear my 'Pink Floyd' shirt."

"They have better security than at the airports," said Richards. "And they have people telling you when to clap, when to cheer, all like that."

"And I didn't want to clap at some of that stuff," said Wirtes.

Shakira appeared friendly and open to speaking to the audience members, but one student was scolded by show personnel for speaking to her, Neyland and Frost said.

Junior Nick Richards said that a MTV studio visit was a fun but eye-opening experience.
Another reality check involved the show host, students said.

"You'd think that the host would be really cool,and hanging out with people," Wirtes said. "He did his reading off the prompt and then he was gone."

Numerous people who were not included as part of the studio audience peered in through windows, Frost said.

"You could tell they were like 'oh, we wish we were in there,'" she said. "When you are in there, you are definitely props for their set and you know it."

The students said they were happy to be part of the show but wished that there were opportunities to speak to the show host and the featured performer. They agreed that being "live" at the set is "definitely different than what you see on TV."

"Part of it is that the space is so small," said Neyland."It looks so much bigger on TV."

An NBC Studios tour revealed that apparently, many sets appear larger on television. Sets for "Saturday Night Live" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" were much smaller than the students expected, they said. And the "Late Night" set serves another purpose as well, students said.

"It's crazy how they use the Conan set for storage when he's not using it," said Richards. "They just move everything in and out."

The students also learned that most of the studio's audience seating is made up of chairs donated by places such as Yankee Stadium, they said.

On To Broadway

The students attended a Broadway performance of "Phantom of the Opera" or "Rent." Neyland chose "Rent" and said that she appreciated the play, it's message, and the Broadway experience.

"There aren't any set changes or special effects in 'Rent,'" she said. "I loved it. It was modern day theater. They used scaffolding in different ways and they used lighting to do effects. I liked the songs and I went out and bought the CD. 'Rent' dealt with modern day issues and that's why I went to see it. It dealt with AIDS, homosexuality, having to pay the rent, all real life issues."

Wirtes, Frost, and Richards attended a performance of "Phantom of the Opera."

Justin Wirtes said he liked a Broadway "Phantom of the Opera" performance.

"When you walked in, it's like old, classic theater, similar to [Proctors Theater in Schenectady, N.Y.], the way it is set up," said Wirtes. "I liked the play. The way they did the dialogue and everything, I understood it."

Richards said he enjoyed the performance.

"They had special effects, they had explosions," he said. "The costumes, the props, the acting, it was all really good. The actors moved from one stage to another - they were popping out all over the place."

Frost said that she dressed in semi-formal attire to enhance her theater experience.

"I thought it was phenomenal," she said. "A Broadway musical; that's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a lot of people. When it first started, I was like 'this seems like a high school play,' and then it just broke out into this Broadway production and it was amazing."

"Well Worth It"

The trip was funded through student-led fundraisers and each participating student paid over $300 in registration costs plus spending money for the trip. Payment plans were available to students who faced a hardship with trip costs.

The students said that they want to expand fundraising efforts for future trips and hope to add another day to the junket.

Wirtes, Frost, Richards and Neyland agreed that the city is a mecca of historical and educational experiences. If a day were added to the trip, the students could spend more time at some sites and add sites to the trip schedule.

Students did visit the Statue of Liberty but time constraints forced them to skip a planned Ellis Island visit.

"That is something that I really wish we had done," Neyland said of Ellis Island.

Wirtes said that he had hoped to visit the historical site as well.

"When you think about the thousands of boats that came, the thousands of people; that's where it all started," he said. "I'd like to have been there and gotten the experience."

School trips can be challenging to arrange and finance and can mean time away from classrooms and books.

But the benefits of seeing, doing, and experiencing the multiple dimensions of a school trip are invaluable, said Neyland.

"We saw and did so much," she said. "This trip was well worth it."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.

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