AHS pupils go to New York and hear first-hand accounts of 9/11

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Countless millions of people walk the streets of New York City every day of every year. They come in all shapes, sizes, sexualities, colours and races.

For five days in March a group of 10 secondary four pupils from the Anderson High School’s Club XL project joined them on the sidewalks in a trip to learn about 9/11 and engage with the fire service following a programme of learning with the Lerwick Fire Service.

Club XL is an initiative of the Prince’s Trust which aims to re-engage young people whose interest in mainstream education has waned (by supporting and encouraging them in an appropriate environment and get them achieving their own personal goals).

Achievement is the main aim for students in Club XL – a two year project over the final two compulsory years of secondary education, helping them achieve the skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work which they can take from the project into further education, training or the workplace.

As well as being an initiative of the Prince’s Trust, Club XL is built around the principles of “Getting It Right For Every Child” and Curriculum For Excellence.

Curriculum For Excellence means ensuring the development and nurture of all of young people, whatever their circumstances, moti­vations and aspirations, and invest in them so that they can become responsible citizens with respect for others as well as themselves.

The young people should have a commitment to participating re­spon­sibly in political, economic, social and cultural life while developing a knowledge of the world and Scotland’s place in it; be successful learners with enthusiasm and motivation for learning, who are open to new ideas and deter­mined to reach high standards of achievement; be confident individ­uals with physical, mental and emotional wellbeing who have self respect and ambition and effective contributors with resilience and self-reliance who can communicate, work in partnership and apply critical thinking, solve problems and be enterprising and creative.

Bearing those goals in mind AHS additional support needs principal teacher Christine Carter and her Club Xl pupils decided to get in contact with SIC international education department, which oper­ates the Global Classroom, and see if they could build on the work done with the Lerwick Fire Service through an educational trip to New York City.

The students were inspired to travel to New York City and learn about the events of 9/11 first hand after the culmination of a 10-week work experience and citizenship course they had completed with Highlands and Islands Fire Service as volunteers.

The trip also served a purpose of demonstrating that students who attend such programmes as Club XL are more than capable of attaining the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence and in combating the prejudice that such students are undeserving of global learning opportunities.

The students’ preparation for the trip involved planning and raising considerable funds through enterprising activities such as making and selling cakes, running a Fair Trade tuck shop and bag packing. The work done helped consolidate the students’ learning in enterprise and planning skills and other vital skills such as team working which are a necessary component of the skills for learning, the skills for life and the skills for work. Fund-raising was also needed from various organisations which graciously donated a large batch of the funding required.

After the funds were successfully gathered and a calm NorthLink sailing and long transatlantic flight, and with minimal harassment going through the strict US border security, the team of staff and the students arrived in New York safely.

As was to be expected the students were amazed and awe­struck by the scene which welcomed them into the city when they stepped out of the subway at 59th Street for the hotel, to be surrounded by skyscrapers, flashing lights, beeping horns and hundreds of people.

The first full day was spent on a walking tour of Manhattan and in particular visiting Ground Zero and other key educational and infor­mative areas around central and lower Manhattan such as Christ­opher Street and Sheridan Square where the Stonewall Riots took place in 1969 and Wall Street.

The highlight of the day and indeed the trip for many, staff and student alike, was the visit to Ground Zero and Engine Co 10. The group made a stop at the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site where they learnt about the day of 9/11 from an interactive set of displays and materials and thought and discussed about what is to be put in place of the site – a topic of much controversy among New Yorkers.

The group made a visit to Engine Co 10, the fire station situated right next to the World Trade Centre site which was the first to respond on the day of 9/11, where they met and interviewed a fireman who was a first hand witness on the day of 9/11 and played a major part in directing rescue operations.

The students were humbled and saddened by his account of the attacks and what he saw firsthand, as well as some of his gruesome and saddening collection of photo­graphs, and his recount of the harrowing experience of losing six of his fellow co-workers when the towers finally collapsed.

To round off and reflect on what they had learnt over the day some members of the group did one of New York’s best walks over the Brooklyn Bridge where they could take in the best view of the city.

The trip was partly organised in co-operation and dialogue with Ridgewood High School of Ridgewood, New Jersey – a partner school of Anderson High within the Global Classroom Partnership – and so part of the trip involved spending a day at Ridgewood High.

The pupils relished the chance to see a proper American high school and many expressed an interest in studying there perhaps in the future. They got a full tour of the school and its impressive facilities – which include a fully equipped gym, sports hydrotherapy unit and television studio – and then after­wards were invited to sit in on a biology class and meet some Ridgewood students within a class environment which they also really enjoyed.

Another highlight of the trip and the visit to Ridgewood High was getting to witness the performances of the school’s Asian Festival. This remarkable festival is held every year by the Asian students who number about 15 per cent of the school population. They put on spectacularly choreographed performances which were a joy to watch and interesting for Shetland staff and students to see as Shetland schools do not have a very large population of Asian students.

Activities such as this are good at helping students, especially vulnerable ones, to gain perspectives as responsible global citizens who are tolerant of other societies and cultures. The group also took time on their trip to check out some of New York City’s finest landmarks and attractions such as the Empire State Building at midnight, Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History. There was also plenty of time for shopping on 5th Avenue and at Macy’s – the world’s largest department store.

The trip was a resounding success. Trips for disadvantaged young people, who are also really remarkable and delightful young people, offer huge experiences that benefit the health and wellbeing and future prosperity of these young people.

Trips like these to such a place as New York, and in the past with similar students to South Africa, promote a sense of resilience, confidence, determination, achieve­ment and tolerance among such students and thus are an excellent means of showing Curriculum For Excellence in action and in promoting successful alternative approaches to education by initiatives such as the XL Club project.

The visit shows an important part of education for vulnerable and unmotivated young people in helping to give them the confidence to go on further in life and indeed in doing more trips like these in the future, which many of their peers will already have the confidence and ability to undertake. The importance of such educational activities must not be under­estimated in the improvement it makes on the minds of these students.

As a member of the team of staff accompanying the students I would like to congratulate them on behalf of the rest of the international education team on being truly exceptional ambassadors for the AHS and Shetland as a whole.

We wish to thank all who contributed to fund-raising – in particular the Lerwick Community Council and Maggie Dunne of the SIC infrastructure services – and to head of schools Helen Budge for her unflagging support in making this trip a reality for this superb group of students.

James Johnson


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