My first reaction to NYC today was the incredible amount of police presence I have noticed. The police are everywhere, and they patrol in groups of three and four officers. Also, there are police surveillance cameras mounted all around Manhattan along with portable raised watch towers where the cops are sitting and watching the streets below. It is comforting to have the police around, yet at the same time quite sad that this is what is necessary in today’s America.
After breakfast, we took the subway to Battery Park. Our destination was the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Before boarding the ferry, we were herded through airport-like security including the plastic bins for our stuff and the walk-through metal detectors. I found the irony of having to deal with this restrictive process in order to visit a statue that is dedicated to our liberty and freedom quite infuriating.
Then there was the statue… so majestic and proud, welcoming us to New York and welcoming those from other lands to America. I am not necessarily a sentimental guy, but the sight of her gave me quite a chill.
Sally and I were thrilled with the girls’ reaction to Ellis Island. They were totally fascinated with the history and stories that they heard and read about during our visit today. Sure, we have taken them to museums before (Chicago has some of the best in the world), but we have not seen Marni and Gillian so enthusiastic about a “family field trip” as we saw today.
The one activity that the girls really wanted to complete was looking up our relatives who came to America from Europe at the turn of the last century. I was fascinated to see them truly come to life as we sat at the computer in the research center at Ellis Island. They were totally engaged and invested in finding as much information as possible such as the ships’ manifests with our relatives’ names, how the immigrants from our past answered the entry questions that were asked of them, and the dates and times of their entry into the USA.
In my school district the staff spent the entire 2008-09 school year studying the 21st century skill of “authentic learning” and creating authentic units of study. Our Ellis Island experience today was such an awesome example of authentic learning in action. I have never seen my daughters so excited to do research, and they talked about how they can’t wait to get home and continue researching online with their grandparents. The fact that we were researching on the computer only added to their excitement. This was meaningful “work” that was not assigned because it is required by a curricular mandate. Instead, the girls were engaged becasue they had a personal connection to the topic they were studying.
In addition, my kids are true digital natives, and this was quite evident today as they learned about their ancestors’ journeys to America. (There you go, Jason, I got in a plug for 21st century skills! See his comment from yesterday.)
This incredible day ended with our first ever Broadway musical. This is something Sally and I have wanted to do since we met 24 years ago, but we never had the opportunity until now. We saw the Tony Award winning “Billy Elliot.” All I can say is that I have seen a lot of children sing and dance in front of audiences in my 24 years as an educator, but I have never seen children as talented as what I saw tonight. Absolutely incredible.
Well, this dad is very tired. Tomorrow it’s off to Rockefeller Plaza for the Today Show and a tour of NBC studios, and then we are headed to Central Park.
Thanks for visiting!