The Encounters and Exchanges TAH Grant recently sponsored a trip into New York City over April vacation. It was a time to interact and share with other teachers while visiting some of the top destinations for history in the city: Central Park, Chinatown, the New York Historical Society, Little Italy, Harlem, and Ellis Island to name only a few. All were top notch; we gained valuable insight, got some great teaching materials and expanded our content knowledge.
One of the common groans heard throughout the trip was "I wish I could bring my students here!" Field trips, in this era of budget cuts and restrictive spending, have become almost extinct. Unfortunately, some historical sites need to be experienced first hand to truly have an impact.
While it may not be possible to bring 150 students down to New York to experience Ellis Island or the grandiose Central Park, one viable option is to plan a 'virtual field trip'. You could do this on your own with the wonderful "Google Earth" or utilize virtual tours provided by many museums. The Tenement Museum, which was the (almost) unanimous favorite of the group in NYC, provides an excellent virtual tour at their website http://www.tenement.org/.
Opened in 1992, the Tenement Museum is located at 97 Orchard St on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Built in 1863, the top 5 floors of the building were condemned in the 1930's while store fronts still operated on the bottom floors. Shuttered from use and left to decay, the top floors were (and continue to be) renovated by the museum to offer a glimpse into immigrant history. Each apartment has been or is being restored to represent the time that one immigrant family lived in it; we visited the Confino family's apartment and stepped back in time to 1917. We met Victoria, the Confino's youngest daughter, who welcomed us as a new immigrant group. She explained her family's story, why they came to America, what the difference was between her life in the 'old country' and her life in America.
To access virtual tours, click on 'play' then 'virtual tours'. You- and your students- won't be disappointed!