INA – Take 14 Rend Lake College students, throw them in the Big Apple with their history teacher, and one gets a week-long lesson in culture, art, American history and life in New York City. RLC calls it Topics in Social Science, or SOSC 2101.
Students of “Topics” this year were Brent Reed (McLeansboro), Leslie Kelly (Steeleville), ReAnne Palmer (Mt. Vernon), Jade Helm (Mt. Vernon), April McCormick (McLeansboro), Jake Ivanovich (Benton), Kaitlin Farley (Mt. Vernon), Candace Draper (Mt. Vernon), Hannah Haile (Belle Rive), Jordan Bennett (Ewing), Hannah Simmons (McLeansboro), John Carlson (Mt. Vernon), Brittanie Graham (Woodlawn) and Megan Karcher (Dahlgren). They were accompanied by chaperones Mary Beth Sniderwin and RLC Dean of Student Services Lisa Price, along with RLC History Instructor Henry “Buster” Leeck.
For about $1,400 each, the students stood by the Statue of Liberty, strolled Times Square, visited the UN, caught a couple of Broadway musicals, ate at remarkable locations, listened to live jazz performers over dinner, viewed the Big Apple skyline from the Empire State Building, toured downtown NYC, visited Ground Zero, toured Ellis Island and its immigration museum, saw a comedy show at the Laugh Factory and viewed magnificent art at the Met. The price tag also included air travel, hotel accommodations, transportation costs within the city and all meals except lunch.
And since the Rend Lake College Foundation pitched in $6,600 in support for the class trip, the students came up with a little more than half of the $1,400, plus their lunch money.
“Once again, the Foundation proved to be a great avenue of opportunity for RLC students,” Leeck said. “I am sure that our group would have been smaller if it were not for the RLCF’s sponsorship.”
Although it’s school during spring break, this class is nothing short of a great getaway that dishes out the best NYC has to offer. Speaking of dishes ... there is the food for starters.
– Stories of Times Square –
Their first night in New York City included dinner at Heartland Brewery – a specialty in New York, located at the base of the Empire State Building, and one of four locations nationwide. After dinner, the students toured to the top of the 102-story skyscraper before calling it a night and checking into Hotel Novotel on Times Square.
“My room was awesome. It looks straight down on where the ball drops,” said Leeck.
– Lady Liberty and Live Jazz–
On day two, Tuesday, the students took a ferry from Battery Park to Liberty Island where they stood with Lady Liberty – the first American landmark to be seen by immigrants arriving in the U.S. From there, they toured the immigration museum on Ellis Island. That night, the group heard live jazz music at Jazz Standard.
“They enjoyed it,” Leeck said. “They were able to immerse themselves in a culture they are not used to. You don’t see a lot of jazz clubs in southern Illinois.”
– lights ... action ... cheesecake! –
Wednesday’s class was held in the United Nations Building where the group peeked in on the security council and general assembly chambers. Then they set off for a taping of the Today Show in Rockefeller Plaza and a tour of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) studios. Swinging by the ABC set of Good Morning America was a special treat that morning. Not only did they enjoy free hot dogs from the Oscar Mayer Weiner mobile, but the students were caught by cameras during the live telecasting of GMA. In fact, Palmer gave her school some national coverage when one of the show’s anchors asked her where her group was from. “Rend Lake College!” she replied.
As an entire class, they saw Legally Blonde on Broadway and ate some Maxey’s Deli cheesecake on Times Square.
– Latifa, Little Italy and Ground Zero –
Leeck relinquished his role of teacher to tour guide Latifa on Thursday. Before arriving at their rally point, she was not aware it was the RLC group she was about to guide through the highlights of lower Manhattan, such as Wall Street, Ground Zero, Trinity Church, Saint Peter’s Church, Battery Park and South Street Seaport. She recalled guiding last year’s group of RLC students and even remembered Leeck’s name.
The most memorable event of the trip, according to Leeck, was again Thursday’s at the Essex World Cafe, located across the street from where the Twin Towers once stood. The small Greek deli at Ground Zero was mostly destroyed on 9/11, Leeck explained. He said the front was demolished when the towers collapsed, but the back remained intact and was turned into a triage center where many victims received treatment. The ‘medical station’ sign still hangs near the entrance. Leeck went on to explain that the group visited with the owners of the restaurant again this year and that they remembered the 2007 group from RLC.
Photographs of daily patrons who perished on Sept. 11, 2001 line the walls of the Essex World Cafe. The names of former customers who once frequented the deli on their lunch hour now appear with an American Flag display in the restaurant.
“Seeing it for the second time was still just as powerful, I think, because it was with a group of students who were experiencing it for the first time,” Leeck said.
“When [Latifa] spoke about 9/11/01, it was probably the most surreal collection of moments in my life,” Simmons stated in her homework account of the trip. “I felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to be there with her and hear her story of that day.”
Last year, Latifa’s tour routed RLC students to dinner in China Town. This year, she dropped the group off in China Town, where they spent some free time before heading to Little Italy for dinner at La Mela.
That night, the group split apart. One mini-group headed with Price to the Laugh Factory – a famous comedy club in New York City – and the other attended the Broadway show, Mama Mia, with Leeck.
– Fine Art Farewell –
The final day, Friday, the class took in some fine art exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Met, and went on a walking tour through Central Park before heading back home.
The hands-on education students receive with this opportunity is much more rewarding than the grade on daily journals and written papers they hand in, or the group presentations they give once back in Ina.
“I see New York City as a different culture,” Leeck said. “It is an awesome learning experience to see what happens in a city first-hand. A classroom setting just doesn’t compare to the hands-on enrichment from living in New York City for a week. And we did live there, however brief. We did the same things New Yorkers do on a daily basis. We rode the subway, used the public transportation system and we used our feet a lot. And not only did we get to experience the culture, we learned a lot about history – the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Ground Zero.”
As Leeck explained, students of RLC’s Topics course “live and learn.”