A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. - Henry Adams
How many of us can say “I’ve been to the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center?” Many would answer, “Never.” But thousands of Garden City children can answer, “I went when I was an elementary school student.”
What started as a music teacher’s dream eighty years ago has continued as a rich tradition in Garden City.
In 1935, Helen Plinkiewisch began teaching music at Stewart School and introduced her students to opera. She helped them design an abbreviated form of an opera performed by the Met. Her dream of teaching students to perform opera would be referred to today as “project-based learning”. Musical performances, such as the opera, provide students with opportunities to learn and grow in the areas of music, theater, movement, dance and visual arts. Students can hone their artistic skills, build confidence, and find talents they may have never known, all while working as a team. Educators believe it is a powerful strategy for integrated instruction.
To prepare her students for their stage debut, Mrs. Plinkiewisch escorted a small group of children to the original Opera House for the Metropolitan Guild's first student matinee performance, beginning a tradition that would span 80 years. Garden City students were one of the first student groups to attend the Met’s student matinee performances. Since the first matinee in 1935, the Guild has introduced the experience of a live opera to hundreds of thousands of students including thousands of Garden City children. This annual excursion is much more than a school field trip, it is unique cultural experience, unlike anything a child may ever experience.
The PTA has been proud to sponsor the trip to the Metropolitan Opera. The earliest records indicate PTA’s fundraising efforts helped sponsor this trip even before the Garden City Parent Teacher Association was chartered in 1945. In the early 1970’s, the community felt all students in the district should benefit from this opportunity and expanded the program to include Stratford School students. Since then, both schools have attended this annual trip. Today, the PTA sponsors the subscription to the MET on behalf of the district and parents contribute by paying for the buses chartered by the district.
Finding a performance to accommodate 300 students, plus teachers, staff, and chaperones on the same day is not always easy. But thanks to Dr. Prasso, Ms. Norton, Mrs. Vota, Mrs. Grace and Mrs. Lavine, it is done! This team of educators selects the performance as soon as the Met’s calendar is published in late June. Coordinating this effort takes the dedication and hard work of the district staff. Teachers prepare the students for the trip by studying the opera they are going to see and discussing the history of the Met itself. Most years the trip runs smoothly, but every once in a while a bus breaks down or gets stuck in NYC traffic. Our students are resilient and rise to the occasion. They know their field trip is to one of the most prestigious stages in the country and appreciate where they are, despite any setback the day may bring.
On March 13th, Stewart and Stratford fifth grade students were treated to a dress rehearsal of Fidelio, Beethoven’s only complete opera. This year’s fifth graders joined a long legacy of Garden City children who have benefited from the love and dedication of Mrs. Plinkiewisch.
Thank you for your support of the PTA, which helps make these truly unique cultural experiences possible for our children.