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Small town students enjoy big city experiences

For a group of students who mostly grew up in Demopolis, or other relatively small Alabama towns, a week in New York City can cause a pretty strong case of culture shock.

But for the 17 students from Demopolis Middle School who visited the Big Apple last week, the crash course in big-city life was nothing short of an adventure.

As they gathered in the DMS cafeteria this week to share their experiences, the orderly manner they answer teachers’ questions was quickly forgotten. They just had too much fun to raise their hands and wait to be called on.

“New York doesn’t sleep,” Willie Wallace said, amazed that the “City that Never Sleeps” cliche actually holds water. “So we stayed up late in the hotel, too. We were late one morning, because all the alarms went off, and we never heard them.”

The annual New York trip, geography and civics teacher Meggin Dickerson said, aims to “get the kids some experiences somewhere other than Demopolis.”

“Most of these kids would never get this experience in a lifetime,” she added. “Some of them fit right in, went along with it and almost became New Yorkers. Others showed they were definitely small-towners.”

“I was pretty homesick,” Cristle Agee admitted.

The students experienced the traditional New York sights, like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

But they also experienced some things the city doesn’t put in the tour guide, like the bold, hungry squirrels Ben McCarter fed in Central Park, the odd odor of a New York Subway car, and the unavoidable queasiness of a ferry-ride to Ellis Island.

Some details, like the giggled-over, but never explained, “naked cowboy,” have a Las Vegas quality, as far as Dickerson was concerned: “What happened there, stays there,” she told the students.

The students, or their parents were responsible for the $1,255 price tag on the trip. While some parents were willing to foot the whole bill for their children to see the city, other students helped pay their own way with fund-raisers.

McCarter, Austin Holley, Russ Seale and Hunter Wells, for example, sold Krispy Kreme donuts to pay for the trip. And the other travelers made some sacrifices.

“The rest of us had to give some stuff up,” Kathleen Randall said.

But every student stressed that the trip was worth the work.

While at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, on New York’s famed 42nd Street, Drew Kratzer did his best Elvis impression, performing “Ain’t Nothing but a Hound-dog” on the museum’s American Idol stage.

“I was nervous,” Drew said. “It was a lot different than singing in the shower.”

At mammoth toy store FAO Schwartz, the students ran wild.

“It was so fun,” Shamoneka Collins said, especially remembering the fun they had on the giant floor piano made famous in the Tom Hanks movie “Big.”

There was educational value to balance out the fun. The students learned a lot about the history of the American melting pot at Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty, no longer open to tourists, unfortunately, wasn’t as big as Ben McCarter expected. But is was still impressive.

“I found out a lot of things I didn’t know, like the symbolism in it,” Shamoneka said, like the 365 stair steps to the top, and the seven points on Lady Liberty’s crown, marking the seven continents.

“Oh, you did listen!” Dickerson said, clearly impressed.

The students also made a somber pilgrimmage to Ground Zero, the sight of the World Trade Center.

“It was sad to remember everyone that died, and all that happened (on Sept. 11, 2001,” Cristle said.

“Two of the crossbeams from the building were still there, up in the shape of a cross,” Caleb Garrett said.

They also got the chance to see things up close, in real life, that they’d often seen on television and in movies.

At NBC Studios, Michael Mote played weatherman and Drew Kratzer was a reporter on the set of “Dateline NBC.”

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the students were given free time to explore the expansive collection of priceless, historic paintings and sculpture.

“I loved seeing all of the neat art and statues,” Cristle said.

While most of the students said they were glad to be back in Demopolis, there was no question whether they enjoyed the trip.

“Yes!” they yelled, and one voice added, “it was better than five days at school.”