New York, New York, a wonderful place…

This could be a long post. Hope you can hang in here.

I am LOVING New York . It’s like a giant version of Melbourne; there’s a very similar feel between the two cities. I arrived Friday night and caught a taxi from JFK to my hotel. A set rate of $45.00 plus tolls and tip seemed pretty reasonable. I didn’t feel confident enough to hop on the Subway and then make my way to the hotel in the dark! I did venture into the streets in search of food and was amazed to find I could buy a giant slice of pizza for $1.00. Yes, you read correctly. $1.00. You’d never find a price like that in Melbourne.

Saturday morning I decided to tackle the subway. I headed down to Union Square and encountered the Farmer’s  Market that runs there. Not a huge market, but full of homemade produce and the like. A weekly subway ticket, covering trains and buses, cost me $27.00. Compare that to the $12.50 a day ticket in Melbourne! I managed to get totally confused and headed uptown instead of downtown. (Those of you who know me well will find no surprises there…) Thanks to some very helpful New Yorkers I was put on the right path.

The World Trade Centre site is a hive of activity. Construction is underway on what will be a memorial and new buildings. Where the two towers stood will be two large pools of water, with 30ft cascading waterfalls around the edges circulating the water. Etched into the edges will be the names of the people who lost their lives in the tragedy. Trinity Church sits at the edge of what is now the construction site. It survived the fall of the buildings and became a haven for firemen and police who sifted through the ruins in the weeks that followed. It serves as a memorial for the victims at present and I was very moved by the experience of reading letters from families and those firefighters and police. 9/11 had such an impact on me and I didn’t know anyone directly affected. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for New Yorkers who must be constantly reminded of that day and the loss that ensued.

I ventured to the Hudson River and caught my first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. When you’ve only ever seen it in movies or on television it really is one of those intake of breath moments. I caught the ferry to Liberty Island to get the close up view. I’d contemplated catching the Staten Island ferry and seeing it that way, but am so glad I chose to visit. It’s a truly magnificent structure. Awe inspiring really.

On my return, my iPhone came to the rescue and led me to the Subway. (I’ve downloaded a few apps specific to New York and they are all proving very useful.) On a whim, I decided to go to Times Square to see the lights – all very impressive – and on another whim, I decided to go and see a Broadway play. There’s a cut price ticket booth in Times Square and the man in the queue in front of me recommended ‘In the Heights’. I’d never heard of it, but I’m so thankful for the recommendation. It’s an Hispanic musical that’s about to be made into a movie under the direction of Kenny Ortega apparently. It’s feel good, has great music and dancing, and a storyline that transcends cultures. I found myself relating my experiences growing up, to the story being told. I’m sure that was true for many in the audience that night.

Great idea going to a Broadway play, but then you have to find your way back to your hotel in a very large city, and, you’re a woman on your own. I was a trifle nervous, but there was no need. Once again, the kind people of New York helped me find my way to the right train and I got back perfectly fine. One of the things about New York that you notice is that it’s always on – there’s no downtime – people are always around. I certainly found that out when noise form the nightclub three dooors down kept me up nearly all night. At one stage an altercation outside led to the arrival of the NYPD! I felt like I’d landed in an episode of CSI. A room change the next morning has led to settled nights of sleep fron then on thank goodness.

Sunday. I was very fortunate to be able the share the company of Ann Oro, Lia Parisi and her daughter, Ali. They gave up part of their weekend to help me navigate New York and I am so grateful that they did. It felt good talking at length with people instead of the enforced silence that comes with travelling by yourself. We visited the Empire State Building and ventured to the top. The day was misty and a high wind blew us about up there, but the views were still impressive. Another must do item ticked off. After a Thai lunch we went to the Museum of Modern Art and spent the afternoon either appreciating or speculating about the art on display. The pellet of bricks as art – come on! Who are some people kidding. It makes me wonder; will people one hundred years from now chuckle at what was conceived as art? Thanks Ann, Lisa and Ali.  I really enjoyed the day.

Monday. Early start in horrendous weather. Rain and strong winds and I’m taking the subway to the Bronx. And no, IS339 (elementary, years 5 – 8 and a 1:1 Apple laptop school thanks to a special grant), the school I’m visiting, is not across the road from the station, it’s a 15 minute or so walk away. I was there because of a connection I’ve made with Pat Wagner, an IT consultant who supports the school and who used to work from his home in Queensland doing so. He’s now permanently located in New York and has really helped move this school along. They run all of their administrative data and school planning through Google Apps. If staff want to know anything, they have to learn how to use their system. An effective way to move people forward and an affordable option. Many schools could learn a lesson or two from this example. I had the opportunity to go on a learning walk through classrooms. I’d expected to see some unsettled classrooms, but behaviour amongst the kids was really good. There was a very heavy emphasis on skills teaching in the rooms I entered and the teachers were encouraging the use of routines to reinforce behaviours. Pat was keen to reinforce with me the context of their environment and the fact that maths and literacy levels had been way down at this school. They’ve seen a increase in results since the use of laptops and the heavy emphasis on routines and scaffolding with their student population. I’ve only seen a snapshot of classrooms so I can’t make a judgement call on US education based on this. It did seem vastly different from the Australian system . The fact that these kids don’t get a break during their school day except when going to lunch in the cafeteria, makes me worry. Their school has no playground -there’s no room for one. Kids need time to engage with one another out of a classroom environment -time for them to be themselves and learn from social interaction. Their curriculum doesn’t give them a lot of time for creativity and exercise. To be honest with you, as a parent I wouldn’t be happy with my kids experiencing a school day like this. The school has security staff who are visible all day and the students and visitors walk through scanners when they enter the school. The staff appear to be very dedicated and I saw some lovely interactions between teachers and students. It actually reminded me of my experiences at a former school in a difficult environment, only we were less constrained by the testing rigour of the US curriculum that appears to drive curriculum. Hopefully we will not see these kind of restraints to our curriculum with the introduction of National Curriculum and the threats of increased testing across our school systems.

IS339 has a Dot to Dot program that they run in June. Hopefully my school will be able to connect with them for this program- maybe we can run some projects that cross continents. I hope so. Thanks to Pat for giving me the opportunity to see the school in action.

I walked back to the station in driving winds that saw my umberella invert so many times I might as well have not been using it! Back to New York and the sanctity of Grand Central Station, where I had lunch in their dining concourse thanks to the sound advice from Gary Stager who had sent me a link to a document about the best things to do in New York. The weather had cleared so I visited the New York Public Library and took a look at Bryant Park. More undercover work as I made my way through Macys department school and made a few purchases. By the time I unearthed, it was 7.30pm and the weather had stayed clear. After unsuccessfully finding the right subway point or a bus stop, I walked 17 blocks back to my hotel. Exhaustion was an understatement!

I’ve got lots more I could share but another day beckons. I should be linking and putting in photos but I have not time to do so at present. I may return later and update this. If you’ve stuck it out to the end, thanks for reading!

9 Comments

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9 responses to “New York, New York, a wonderful place…

  1. Just back at school for the first day, reading your interesting post as I set up. Have a great time, I’m sure you will, and you’ll have so much to talk about.

  2. Debby

    Hey Jen

    I can’t believe you’ve done so much.
    I was exhausted reading it.
    Must be awesome to see all the landmarks and historic places, and to see the way people live and learn on the other side of the world. Am a bit jealous of your travelling…..
    The family BBQ was ok yesterday, as expected.
    The kids and Paul are doing ok too.
    Take care
    Deb

  3. Amanda Ritter

    Hey Jenny – sounds like you are having a great time – “kind people of New York” instantly dispels some myths. Thanks for your stories but make sure you get out and see as much as you can – you can always write things up when you are on the plane back:) Take care.

  4. KazK

    Hi Jenny. Good to hear of your adventures in New York. We have just come back from 3 wonderful weeks there. It’s a fabulous place to visit and the shopping is spectacular. Loads of bargains to be had. Try checking out The Strand bookshop. Fantastic! The subways can be VERY confusing to the uninitiated. My son told me to remember that if you’re heading to Battery Park, its downtown, and uptown is towards Central Park. That helped me and I only went the wrong way once this time. :-) Check the trains as they pull up too. You’ll find that some have LCL (for local and stop all stations) and others have EXP (obviously for express). You soon work it all out. I’ll be watching your blog for more adventures. Have a wonderful time. Cheers, Karen

  5. G’day Jenny!
    Loved reading your post. I’ve got so many questions. Can’t wait to start walking again. I’m following your ‘tweets’ & am so impressed by all you’re doing. First day back today! Actually looking forward to having a routine as I seem to get more done.
    Take care,
    Nina

  6. Hi Jenny

    You are certainly making the most of your time in New York! I’m glad you managed to change your room so you could sleep or you would be even more exhausted by now!

    Learning walks would have to be one of the best forms of PD any teacher could do.We need to keep building that culture of sharing within and between schools. (Actually your trip to NY is like one mega Learning Walk!!)

    I’ll stay tuned for more NY updates…enjoy!

    Kim :)

  7. Lee-Anne

    Hi Jenny,
    It is so pleasing to hear that you are having such a wonderful time on your trip. It really is an amazing city!! It certainly sounds like you are seeing a lot and enjoying the experience. The first two days of school have been very busy so I am sure you would much rather be galavanting around New York instead of being at work. I am looking forward to catching up with you when you get back to hear more about your trip. Take care, Lee-Anne

  8. G’day Jenny!

    I happened upon you accidentally on Twitter and came here to read your blog. Anyway, I loved reading about your adventure in NYC. I am in the Deep South USA; Montgomery, Alabama—but I have visited NYC and loved it very much. I could live there — really!

    I also noticed how helpful and friendly the New Yorkers were, and if I met one who was a little sour (a proctor in the Guggenheim comes to mind) all I had to do was put on a little friendly conversation and this sour-puss from the Bronx broke into a grin and told me all about her life in the Big Apple.

    I hope you have a wonderful stay and Happy Australia Day a little late. I have a few Aussie pals on facebook and they are all dear to me!

    ellen c maze, author and fellow traveler
    http://www.rabbitnovel.com Rabbit: Chasing Beth Rider

  9. murcha

    Your current tweets made me curious as to you current locality. What a wonderful motivating start to the school year – to be at the Educon Conference! Keep updating us. The connections you make and the sessional content you experience will be fantastic both for you and for us as you share your experiences1

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