By Joshua Rosenfeld
On May 19, Guidance Department Head Dr. Thomas Ganes, social studies teacher Ms. Michelle Sorise, and 20 seniors will depart for the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Housing 250,000 people and extending over four states, the reservation is the largest in the U.S. The trip, run in collaboration with Amizade Global-Service Learning, will last for a week.
The purpose of the trip is to provide students opportunities to “learn about Navajo life and culture, to work on a community-led service project, and to explore the natural beauty of the area.” Ms. Sorise and Dr. Ganes want students to reflect on both “fundamental human equality” and “what it takes to be an educated and engaged citizen.”
According to Ms. Sorise, the service projects will include activities such as “educational support (tutoring), manual labor (wood cutting and trail clearing), and elderly support (caring for the elderly).” She added, “Part of the service we are providing the Navajo community is the role of being eyewitnesses to their present lives. It is their hope that we can help develop awareness so that there is a more hopeful future and a deeper understanding of the past.”
Prior to the trip, students will attend seminars at which they’ll learn about Native American history, including early ways of life, contact and conflict with Europeans, relocation, the “civilizing” mission in boarding schools, Native Americans’ role in World War II, and present day issues. Throughout the trip, students will maintain journals, in which they’ll write about their experiences, and, after returning, they’ll create and share portfolios with the South community.
Senior Harrison Pravder is most excited about “being able to experience life outside of the Great Neck ‘bubble.’” He said, “I hope to be able to understand life from a different perspective…and to learn about the unique aspects of Navajo life and culture.”
Dr. Ganes and Ms. Sorise have been planning a trip like this for years. Both have volunteered in other countries and wanted to provide students the opportunity to experience what Ms. Sorise believes to be a “different type of learning.”
The flexibility of the post-AP schedule presented a prime opportunity for experimentation. After looking for opportunities outside of the country and speaking with Superintendent Dr. Tom Dolan, Dr. Ganes and Ms. Sorise narrowed their search to domestic options. They then ruled out a reservation in South Dakota because of its high poverty and severe conditions and ultimately chose the Navajo Nation as the trip’s destination.
Dr. Ganes said, “The reservation is a safer venture for the kids and for us to get our feet wet and see where it goes.” He hopes that after visiting cultural museums, touring the Grand Canyon, and speaking with Navajo community members, students will gain a greater understanding of the Native American population.
Dr. Ganes added, “It’s not an area many kids know about. You hear a lot about the tribes and the gambling casinos, but you don’t see the depths of what’s going on. Why do they have the highest alcoholism rate? Why do they have the lowest number of students finishing their education and going on to college?”
Senior Katie Blitsman is looking forward to learning some of these issues and getting to know the community. She explained, “I’m sure everyone there has a story to tell, a story that is so completely different from mine, and it would be absolutely fascinating to be able to hear and learn about these peoples’ lives.”
Ms. Sorise echoed a similar sentiment, saying, “In all of my travels I learned amazing things about myself and the people in the community who I was working with. This is just one more opportunity to help enrich the lives of our students and enable them to share with a different community in a learning experience.” She hopes that “each student will take away something special” from the experience.
Ultimately, Dr. Ganes feels that the trip will be a great opportunity to explore post-AP alternatives for seniors. He sees it as a building block and hopes to develop similar opportunities in other areas. Throughout the trip he will ask himself, “Could this be expanded to other areas? Could there be a physics group out and exploring? Is this opening up new ideas? And how can we build on this?”