What do Japanese food, the Louis Armstrong House Museum, the Stonewall National Monument, an Ecuadorian restaurant, and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum have in common? All are among the many places Harlem Academy middle schoolers recently chose to visit on ReExplore NYC Day.
Every year before winter break, fifth- through eighth-graders are split into groups and tasked with designing their own day-long field trip as part of Harlem Academy’s ReExplore NYC program. Although accompanied by school advisors on the outing, students create the itineraries themselves – selecting destinations, planning activities, and coordinating schedules, while making sure to cover a minimum of two boroughs.
“We have to pick at least two cuisines to try and two destinations to visit,” explained fifth-grader Leon Wright. “And we have to choose foods that at least six of us haven’t tried before.”
These guidelines ensure that students are truly re-engaging with the city, visiting new places, and expanding their palates. The day takes them to both renowned and off-the-beaten-path museums, landmarks, and eateries all across New York. "It was very cool to see their range of choices, from the Brooklyn Museum's Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power exhibition to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center," noted Head of School Vinny Dotoli.
Seventh-grader Kyra Wright was excited for the chance to see her city in a new light. “You live here, but you don’t really take the time to tour the city,” she said.
Even with everything planned out, traveling around New York is not easy, and our students ran into some challenges along the way. It was raining the morning of ReExplore NYC Day, making it difficult to navigate subways and buses.
Delayed by the weather, Kyra's group made it to only three of four planned locations, but they didn’t let it put a damper on their day. “We were running late, but it was okay,” she said. “We just had to be patient.” After taking time to regroup and reorganize, they faced the day with sunny attitudes.
Each team must also aim to keep their adventures under $20 per student for the whole day, a challenge that requires focus and cooperation within groups. “At Harlem Academy, we like to have projects that not only motivate students but challenge them as well,” said Middle School Director Leah Weintraub. “ReExplore NYC does both because it gives the kids constraints to work around in a group setting, which requires problem-solving, compromise, and flexibility.”
During the planning phase, every team member takes on a specific responsibility: a “researcher” suggests landmarks to visit; a “foodie” helps decide which cuisines to taste; a “navigator” plans transportation; an “accountant” maintains the budget; and a “notetaker” keeps track of the adventure. Additionally, students must make sure that everyone is on board with the plan. “One person can’t make the decisions alone,” said fifth-grader Ava Mason. “We all have to choose where we’re going together.” Everyone votes to determine the final itinerary, which is then approved by advisors.
Eighth-grader Sen’ari Minnis said that his class chose to travel as one big group rather than splitting up. They visited the LGBT Community Center, the Taiwan Pork Chop House in Chinatown, Riverbank State Park in Harlem, and Insomnia Cookies. “I’m glad that everyone got to go together before we graduate this spring,” said Sen’ari.
Classmate Miles Davis’s favorite part of the trip was visiting Riverbank State Park, despite the rain hampering their original plan to ice skate. Instead, the staff at Riverbank gave them permission to play basketball in the gym. “We couldn’t skate, but we had a lot of fun anyway. I love basketball, and it was especially fun because the kids got to play against the teachers.”
After spending weeks researching and planning as a team, ReExplore NYC Day was a chance for middle school students to see their ideas come to life, discover some of the cultural treasures in their city, and even learn a little about themselves.
Miles put it best: “The trip gave us the chance to cooperate, have fun, and enjoy each other while we’re still at Harlem Academy. We had to rely on each other and trust each other, and it was worth it because we had a great time together.”
Written by Mariah Bell '13, who is currently interning at Harlem Academy.