Last week Harlem Prep High School took a group of freshmen students on an Italian trip that started in the historic city of Rome. Marist Italy had the opportunity to receive the students in the beautiful city of Florence. One of the leaders that accompanied the students was Heather Staats, who spent her entire Freshman year at the Marist campus in Florence 8 years ago. For her there was no better way to spend time with her students than showing them her home across the ocean. Marist Italy was more than happy to be part of their experience.
As a New Yorker who went to high school in Harlem, I was extremely excited when given the opportunity to be involved in their program for a day. As soon as they walked into the Marist Italy office, I could see their smiles brighten up the room. Upon their arrival they were introduced to the Marist Italy community and all that the college has to offer here in Italy. Four other students and myself were the students guides throughout their visit at Marist. Loud cheers and claps were heard when the students found out that one of the guides and I were from Queens and the Bronx. I could tell there was an instant connection when I discovered Harlem Prep is near a place I used to live in my early high school years. One of the students told me “You should visit us sometime,” and I automatically said yes!
As the day proceed we walked around the city and we showed them some of our class buildings, favorite places and ultimately where we live. Heather, who was part of my group, explained to me that no matter how many years pass by, Florence is always her home away from home. We even got the chance to see the building in which Marist housed their students at the time of her year abroad. It also turns out that we have the same favorite Florentine spot, Piazzale Michelangelo. The coincidences did not end there. I discovered another connection to one of the teachers accompanying the students. The Harlem prep teacher worked with one of my favorite high school teachers: how small is New York City… and the world! The conversation ended with a selfie that was later emailed to my high school teacher. I cannot wait to see her on my return to New York and tell her everything about this adventure!
After a well deserved lunch, students had the opportunity to attend a lecture to learn about Italian Renaissance. What better place than Florence, right? Once the lecture was over, we took the students on a scavenger hunt. The goal was to get as many pictures of Italian street art by Blub and Clet Abraham as possible. I had so much fun with my group and the pictures taken were very creative. They were happy and amazed by all the street art that is right on our faces and sometimes goes unseen.
At the end of the day, we had a final question and answer session with some delicious refreshments. The high school freshmen were proactive with questions and attentive with listening to the answers. I could see in their faces their tiredness. They were exhausted after a long and cold day in the streets. However, there was something in their eyes and smile that told me that they absolutely had an amazing time! I sure did.
It makes me extremely happy to see students from New York City being given opportunities like this one. The day, February 22 of 2018, was an unforgettable experience with 20 unique, smart, and outgoing students. My excitement was so big that I almost cried at the end of the day… yes, it sounds a little exaggerated, but my heart was full of joy and happiness.
Dear Harlem Prep,
If you are reading this, thank you for an amazing day, and I hope to come visit you guys soon. Keep being shining lights in this world! Heather, we hope you and your colleagues had a beautiful stay in Italy… your home.