Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Waldorf High School Students Make Historic Trip to Cuba

03:05PM / Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — Five Berkshire high school students and three teachers from the Waldorf High School in Stockbridge made an historic visit to Cuba this month, traveling first to Cienfuegos, where they stayed with Cuban families, the first U.S. high school students to do so since at least the Carter administration.

After a week in Cienfuegos, the group traveled to La Habana (Havana) through April 22.

Traveling students were Sergei Carty (Lenox), Kosta Koufis (Great Barrington), Takoda Nordoff (Monterey) and Annabell O’Neill and Raphaela Seward-Mayer (both of Philmont, NY). Accompanying them were Spanish teacher Sonia Cintron, accompanied by Ann Marie Genco and Guy Nordoff, also teachers at the school.

In past years, Spanish language students at the Waldorf High School have traveled to Peru and Colombia for their real-world language training. According to Andrea Panaritis, a Waldorf High School parent and executive director of the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, which supports work to strengthen contacts and understanding between US citizens and institutions and their counterparts in Cuba, the trip is special.

“The Waldorf High School’s trip is unique in that it takes advantage of a small opening in U.S. regulations made by the Obama administration, at the same time that deep social and economic changes are underway in Cuba,” she said.

Waldorf students not only lived with Cuban families during their stay — a first for American high school students — but worked directly with Cuban students doing community service, primarily in Cienfuegos rather than Havana.

“The students will take part in community projects such as trash collection, a visit to a local orphanage to play with the children and making art with artists with Down syndrome. We will stop at Playa Giron, the site where the famous Bay of Pigs invasion took place in 1961, visit the Museum of the Revolution, the Museum of Cuban Art and La Finca Vigia, home of Ernest Hemingway, where he wrote two of his most celebrated novels, For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea," teacher Sonia Cintron said prior to the trip.

Students also planned to visit Cuban musicians Magia Lopez and Alexey Rodrigues of "Grupo Obsesion," who performed the first fundraiser for this trip last October in Stockbridge. The Waldorf High School trip to Cuba was arranged through Cuban Educational Travel and made possible in part by a generous grant from the Alice and Richard Henriquez Memorial Fund/Youth World Awareness Program through the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. Arizona Pizza in Pittsfield also donated money for this trip, and students raised money by selling soup and baked goods.

While Spanish language students were in Cuba, German language students at the Waldorf High School were visiting their sister school in Munich, as they do every two to three years with their teacher, Ursula Wirth. The group will also travel to Vienna before returning to the Berkshires on April 25.

“These trips encourage real, practical foreign language learning,” says Waldorf High School Faculty Chair Stephen Sagarin. “Our slogan is, ‘Small School, Big World,’ and travel every other year broadens our students’ experience of the world we all share. There is no substitute for working and learning side-by-side with those who speak different languages and live in a different culture.”

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