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Taking a bite of the Big Apple: Journey to NYC is trip-of-a-lifetime for WHS singers

The Worthington High School students pose for a group photo in New York City's Central Park. (Photo by Lisa Brandt)

WORTHINGTON -- New York City was the destination, with musical and educational expansion as the goal, when 107 Worthington High School (WHS) choral students, led by WHS choir director Kerry Johnson, headed to the Big Apple in late March.

With nine official chaperones and 15 additional "tour tag-alongs," the 132-member Worthington group boarded three Readings Bus Lines coaches on the afternoon of March 25 -- and arrived at their hotel in New Jersey roughly 24 hours later.

"I first entertained the idea of a choir trip about 1½ years ago," explained Johnson. "Shortly after Christmas last year, I settled on New York City, picking it because of all the music and theater arts there.

"I wanted to give the students performing experiences they couldn't have in their hometown, the opportunity to see a Broadway show, and to open their eyes to the possibilities in the music world."

The trip's timing coincided with District 518's spring break, meaning students involved missed only two full days of classes. With so many places to go, things to see and people to move in four days, the group was on the go constantly.

Tour stops included Yankee Stadium, Times Square, the Broadway musical "Cinderella" (featuring Minnesota native Laura Osnes in the title role), the NBC "Today Show," Central Park, the Plaza Hotel, St. Patrick's Cathedral, a harbor cruise, Carnegie Hall, the 9/11 Memorial, Greenwich Village, Chinatown, Little Italy, Grand Central Station and the Empire State Building.

"The Broadway show was pretty spectacular," confirmed Johnson. "The cruise was also a highlight -- getting to see the great views of the New York City skyline, and the Statue of Liberty all lit up at night -- that was terrific.

"The kids also really enjoyed Chinatown and Little Italy."

Musical features were when the students performed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and participated in a "Making Music" workshop with Broadway performers. But sometimes, it's what isn't scheduled that ends up being the most memorable.

"We were near a tunnel at Central Park, and the kids went in there and had an impromptu performance," said Johnson. "They captured that moment, and it ended up being really neat -- the spontaneity and satisfaction of it. You couldn't have planned it, but it was very special."

Despite some challenges -- several students becoming ill at various points with an infectious stomach virus over the course of the trip, and the logistics of keeping 132 people together in diverse and crowded locations -- Johnson feels the trip was a success and provided the exposure to New York desired by the eager students.

"What I love about these kids is they were troopers about it all, including the illness, and they approach everything with a light-hearted sense of humor and made the best of every situation they were in," said Johnson. "They were good to each other and kept a great sense of perspective about everything.

"They also learned something about how to assert themselves in a crowd or line in New York, which is really necessary at times."

Lori Dudley, a District 518 school board member who was independently present for part of the tour and had a junior son involved, was pleased that the WHS students were good-humored and well behaved. She also is grateful to Johnson and the other adults who made the trip possible.

"I'm happy we have staff willing to take on an effort like this, to make the choir experience exceptional for our students," said Dudley. "I appreciate that effort which broadens the horizons for these kids and makes our choir program stronger."

For her part, Johnson has nothing but praise for the chaperones and other adults who pitched in at all hours of the day and night, on the bus, sidewalks, bridges and streets of New York and everywhere in between.

"They were all amazing," said Johnson. "Every adult on the trip stepped in to help, whether or not they were an 'official' chaperone. Whoever saw an issue first jumped in and did what they could to help.

"They were the perfect team to have along, very agreeable and supportive of both me and the students, and it was fun to see the chaperones interacting with the kids."

Trips like this don't happen without a huge amount of coordination and effort, and thus are not an every year event, but that doesn't mean Johnson won't consider another in the future.

"I would hope every child could take a trip like this at least once during their high school years," said Johnson. "It's not feasible to do something like this every year, but I'm hoping to incorporate a travel plan that would allow for a major trip at least once during each student's high school music experience."

Student/adult quotes:

Sarah Waldner, freshman: "I was sick the first day, but that meant I got a little more sleep so I had more energy later on. The harbor cruise and dance on board were a highlight for me."

Ashley Hoefker, freshman: "I liked a lot of it, and it was fun to hang out with my dad (chaperone Kenny Hoefker) in New York City. There weren't as many people around, on the streets, as I thought there would be."

Megan Blanchard, senior: "New York was dirtier than I expected -- there was more trash everywhere, and in the ditches as we went through Pennsylvania on the bus. It made me appreciate our state and area more."

Krista Vogt, senior: "It was a really great trip. My least favorite part was getting sick as we left New York. Ms. Johnson did an amazing job taking care of us, and everyone deserves a lot of credit for making it happen."

Tim Skog, senior: "I didn't get sick, so I say thank God for Lysol and hand sanitizer! One of my favorite things was touring Radio City Music Hall."

Lisa Brandt, parent chaperone: From a text sent during the trip: "The sun is up and beautiful. We are ready for another day in NYC. We walked 17 hours yesterday and apparently did not see everything yet!"