For 17 years, Dalton High teacher Teresa Bennett has ended her school year the same way—packing her bags and traveling about 2000 miles to lead her high school students on a tour of New York City and Boston. The trip is a memorable experience for all of the students and chaperones—especially those who have never traveled outside of Georgia or experienced the big city life in the Big Apple or Beantown.
Bennett, who serves as the Language Arts department chair and teaches Advanced Placement Language Arts and American Literature, says the trip started as a way to bring American literature and American history alive for her high school juniors. Back in 1994, then-Dalton High principal John McMillian asked Bennett during her end-of-the-year evaluation if there was anything new she would like to do for her students. She shared with him that she would like to take students to visit some of the places that they had studied in their American History and American Literature classes. McMillian was supportive of her idea so she began working with a tour company to customize a trip to New York and Boston that would meet her needs. In 1995, Bennett led her first trip of students and chaperones at the end of school during the Memorial Day weekend. Deeming the trip a success, she decided then that the trip would become an annual event.
This year, about 15 students, 8 chaperones and a tour guide hopped a plane in Atlanta on the Wednesday after school was out for the bright lights of New York City. The students always stay a total of 5 days and 4 nights— three days in New York and two in the Boston area. The New York tour always includes the usual sites like the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island, Central Park, Times Square, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the NBC Studios, and a Broadway play. This year, the students were able to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Tribute Center as well as the Firemen’s Memorial. The 9/11 Tribute Wall was especially moving because one of Bennett’s colleagues, Dalton Middle teacher Gretchen Abernathy, lost her brother during the 9/11 attacks and his name is engraved on the memorial wall. Student Caroline Norman etched the name of David Bauer for her former middle school teacher as a memento. Bauer was an employee of Cantor Fitzgerald, the company hardest hit by the September 11th attacks and formerly located in the World Trade Center. Since 9/11, Bennett says the students always have lunch at a small delicatessen across the street from where the World Trade Center Plaza once stood. “Almost every year that we’ve been there, a member of the family that owns the restaurant comes out and shares with the students what it was like for them to be across the street on the day that the Trade Center towers were hit by the airplanes and later collapsed,” said Bennett.
A new stop on the tour this year was a visit to the New Jersey 9/11 Memorial, called “Empty Sky,” located in the Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, directly across the Hudson River from “Ground Zero.” Twin brushed stainless steel walls, each the exact length of one side of the former World Trade Centers Towers, are engraved with the names of the 747 victims who were from New Jersey who died on 9/11 at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or in Shanksville, PA. The walls channel visitors to the location in the Manhattan skyline where the former World Trade Center towers once stood across the Hudson River. Bennett says the location of the memorial makes it especially emotional as you look back over the Hudson to see where the towers once stood.
After the tour of New York, the group headed north to Boston. They stopped in Hartford Connecticut to tour Mark Twain’s Home and in Concord, Massachusetts, which was home to a number of 19th century authors, such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The final stop is Boston where the students toured the city’s many historical sites, the Old North Church, the New England Holocaust Memorial, and the Harvard campus.
Highlights for the students this year were running into a film crew who were taping a commercial with Katie Couric for her new television show, and getting a behind the scenes look at the “Dr. Oz Show” during the NBC Studios tour.
Having taken 689 individuals on the trip over the years, she’s learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. The trip evolves every year and she adds or deletes things based on feedback from the students. “We used to go to the Empire State Building, but it was so crowded and hard to really see the city from that vantage point,” Bennett said. “Now we go to up to the Top of the Rock at sunset on the first night we are in New York. The view of the city and Central Park is amazing and it really gives the students a total perspective of the city from above.”
Dalton parent and trip chaperone Sandy Hannah, whose daughter Alex went on the trip, says the trip is a great opportunity for students. “This is my second time chaperoning the trip and I love it,” Hannah said. “It’s a very diverse group of students who go, and you really get to know them on this trip. My favorite part was attending the two Broadway shows and being on the grounds where the World Trade Center towers stood—it was very sad and very moving.” Hannah says the trip also created an interest in history for her. “We visited the Mark Twain house in Hartford and just the other day, PBS featured a show about Samuel Clements,” she added. “I sat down and watched the whole thing and thought I’ve been to this house and it was so much more interesting to me having experienced it.”
Dalton student Alex Hannah says the trip was great and would recommend other students go when they are juniors. “It’s a trip of a lifetime,” Alex said. “I liked going to the Top of the Rock and seeing the city, and “Sister Act” was a good musical. “I like Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum—all the wax figures looked so real.” Alex says seeing the historical sites in real life will now make history even more interesting in school.
Bennett says the trip is open to any rising senior who has taken the American Literature and the American History classes. She tries to take as many students that are interested in going on the trip. The students must pay their own expenses but Bennett says there are a number of fundraisers throughout the school year that allow students to raise the money to pay for their trip. “I believe having the students earn at least part of the cost is part of the learning experience,” Bennett adds. “I also have several community benefactors who make small donations to help support students who may need a little assistance in order to go,” Bennett said. “The trip is a wonderful experience for the kids,” she added. “Spring is a beautiful time of year to see the area, and the weather is perfect. It’s a perfect way to end the school year.”
This year student Rachel Bakker participated in a competition called “Live From Tour” sponsored by Smithsonian Student Tours and won an iPad. She posted info and photos she took during the trip on the organization’s Facebook page and received the most likes on her posts to the site.
Dalton students who participated this year included Rachel Bakker, Ansley Burgess, Cole Calfee, Alexis Chastine, Morgan Coker, Ethan Fromm, Alex Hannah ,Trey Hurt, Caroline Norman, Alison Parker, Pierson Scarborough, Massey Swanson, Nick Walker, Emily Weathers, and Macy Wilson. Chaperones included Mike Torres (tour guide), Lindsay Bennett, Lisa Burgess, Jill Calfee, Sandy Hannah, Jodi Morris, Angie Norman, and Carson Swanson.