New York City students visit Badlands
Dakota Digest - 04/02/2012
By Jim Kent
There's nothing like taking the classroom to the realities of the outside world - especially when you'll be traveling somewhere that's the complete opposite of where you live. Today we spend time with a group of students from New York City whose Spring break visit to South Dakota is like being in another world.
Having grown up in New York City, I can attest to the fact that life on its streets is anything but quiet, peaceful and calm.
Life in most areas of South Dakota, on the other hand - especially in its remote areas, is quite a bit different.
"I went on a run this morning up on the road and you could see for such a far distance...it was crazy," says Ruby Samuels. "It just feels...there's this immense expanse of prairie, but then you see these crazy sculptures in the middle of it. It's...it's incredible."
Ruby Samuels is a 17-year old student at the Calhoun School, in New York City. We're sitting just outside the Visitors Center at Badlands National Park as the sun begins to set behind an endless horizon of buttes and spires.
"The first thing I noticed was just the layers of color here," explains Samuels. "You can see the bands on all of the buttes here. And at sunset all....I mean...in the city, you don't ever see the sunset, and you don't really see the sky."
But Ruby and a group of fellow students and teachers from the Calhoun school are seeing both - and more - during a week's visit to the Badlands.
On the national park side, the New Yorkers are here for the first Badlands Youth Camp. Spokesperson Julie Johndreau the Badlands immersion camp experience brings students up-close-and-personal with the environment of a unique geographic area. Johndreau explains the goal of the camp.
"Cultural exchange, science, technology and art," Johndreau says. "Art as the lens to experience this. We're all artists. We can all have experiences in the park. We can all learn something from this place.... So, to combine those things and not put on the kids not what we want them to learn."
The camp experience is all these things for the Calhoun students, and a bit more. Art teacher Gary Joseph Cohen is a former Badlands artist-in residence and longed to return in order to share the park's beauty with his students. Those feelings were intensified last year when Ruby Samuels produced a documentary "The Nature of Mind and Body" as a school project. Ruby's goal was to explore her belief that since urban teens aren't exposed to any sort of natural setting, they're unaware of their relationship to the environment. Cohen takes it from there.
"I couldn't help but think, hmm, what would happen if we actually tested her theories out, and took it off the paper and brought it into the field?," recalls Cohen. "And so I actually talked with her a little bit and said, ‘What do you think about us maybe actually creating some kind of wilderness experience outside of New York City where you and I would collaborate on the curriculum, so to speak? She was all for it and...here we are."
Badlands National Park was initiating its Youth Camp program and made the idea a perfect fit.
After 2 days touring the Badlands and the Pine Ridge Reservation, the students have observed quite a lot - starting with clouds.
"The backdrop just feels like, if you just poke it or touch it...it'll just kind of fall back," observes one female student. "And crumble. Almost fake. It's so beautiful."
And continuing with the stars
"In New York City, typically the most light you get in the sky is a plane...a passing plane," explains Marc Burnett. "Or the occasional one or two stars. But here I see many more than I can even begin to count. There was a point in time when I was sitting on the bench and I looked up at the sky and I got so lost in that....that5 very still."
Heidy Rodriquez offers her own feelings about what it's like being a New York City kid in the middle of nowhere.
"Here it's almost so quiet and it's like...how do you respond to silence and then be free with this response?" asks Heidy.
As for cultural discoveries, Timothy Brown Bull thinks the New York students talk different than he does and have a different sense of humor. Beyond that...
"Nothing much," says Timothy. "They're just the same people...just different colors."
The kids from Calhoun feel the same about Timothy and his Lakota friends.
When their visit is complete, these young New Yorkers will take back what they've learned about the bigger world outside their city and begin processing it. The hope is they'll not only be able to put the experience into their art, but carry their new knowledge and respect of nature with them throughout their lives.
Photo 1 - Heidy Rodriguez walks across S.D.'s Badlands
Photo 2 - Ruby Samuels contemplates S.D.'s Badlands
Photo 3 - NY City students observe sunset in S.D.'s Badlands
Photo 4 - NY City students with buffalo remains in S.D.Badlands
All photos courtesy New York City’s Calhoun School
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