This Time Was Different!
The Hopewell Valley Regional School District has focused on our equity efforts for the past several years. We have created important policies and provided professional development to support this work; however, nothing we have done has been more profound in expressing our vision than the work of a 5th-grade teacher and her students.
During a February 2017 Martin Luther King celebration at our Bear Tavern Elementary School, Rev. Gilbert Caldwell and his wife shared a story about how they were turned away on their honeymoon in 1957, because of the color of their skin. The Caldwells have shared this story countless times before, however, this time was different. The students told their teacher they wanted to do something about this injustice, even if it was 60 years later. Their teacher, Mrs. Christina Virtucio, capitalized on a teachable moment and let the students run with the idea. The students found out the lodge had closed down, but wrote to another resort to request a honeymoon stay for the Caldwells. The events that transpired over the next eight months have been nothing short of amazing.
The current day Mount Airy Resort and Casino provided the Caldwells with an all-expense paid honeymoon, sixty years later. Students invited the Caldwells back to Bear Tavern to surprise them with a second chance at an important milestone, their honeymoon. This event was covered by our local papers and shared on our district website, but thanks to the power of social media, the event was picked up nationally. The students were featured on CBS Sunday Morning and were guests on the Steve Harvey Show. The teacher and the principal have received emails of encouragement and offers of pizza parties from all over the nation. Their efforts culminated with an invitation to the Statehouse to receive a proclamation honoring their work. In the words of New Jersey Senator Shirley Turner, “These students have done something great and we should all be proud of them and their teacher.”
The Caldwells and the students have become minor celebrities, but the recent events have done so much more for our school community. The gesture of the Mount Airy Resort helps to repay a debt long owed to the Caldwells. The Caldwells are rightly proud of the part they have played in ensuring that a new generation understands the struggles endured by so many. But perhaps the most profound impact has been on the lives our students, the Bear Tavern School, and our district. This impact has been lead by our students who found their voice...without the internet, without a flashy video, but by writing a letter to someone who listened. They have seen first-hand that it only takes one-simple step to make a change.
When superintendents and boards of education set policies and develop programs, we hope to articulate what we value as a district. The efforts of Mrs. Virtucio and her students have done more than we could have ever imagined to demonstrate what we value. While we often hear concerns about the future of our country, the work of these students, encouraged by a dedicated teacher, has rejuvenated our belief that education continues to makes a difference. It also shows that by listening to their students and supporting them, teachers can provide life-changing experiences in class, not just deliver curriculum.