Travel and Fun: Caribbean Connections Style

September 5, 2017 Published by Ryan Conary

The most memorable experiences are often found in our own backyards. Many of us tend to bypass attractions, museums, and natural sites in our own towns and cities. Sometimes these places are out of reach. When we are able to experience our community’s cultural and natural resources, we develop a better understanding and appreciation for where we live, and most of the time we have fun!

This was the case for students who participated in the Caribbean Connections program this summer. Travel was a large part of their itinerary this year, consisting of six field trips.  Most field trips took place within the boundaries of Salem, including a visit to The House of the Seven Gables, where students, ages 5 to 11, engaged in the thrilling experience of the Worldwide Trading Game.

Guided by tour guides and teachers, students took on the roles of seafaring merchants who traversed the Atlantic world in the 17th and 18th centuries in search of profit. As students experienced the excitement of winning, they also learned the history of the Atlantic trade and discovered the realities of an economic system that relied on the unfree labor of enslaved people to produce and distribute goods throughout the Atlantic region.

Most of the students who participated in the program were first- or second generation Dominican immigrants whose families travelled to Salem in search of work or to join other family members. The interwoven histories of Salem and the Caribbean became very real for them as they learned about the introduction of slavery in the Caribbean; the vast change or destruction of island environments resulting from the first arrival of Europeans in the New World; the demand for slave labor in the Caribbean’s sugar plantations; the prosperity generated in New England by the Triangle Trade; the role that immigrants played in powering New England’s economy during the Industrial Era.

The program’s “big picture” approach to history afforded all students an opportunity to explore the reasons why people have moved across continents – sometimes against their will – since colonial times to the present.

As students explored Salem’s early history, they quickly understood that the Puritans were immigrants, too, escaping religious persecution in England. Notable children’s trade books were also part of the curriculum, and they helped students understand that people sometimes must emigrate, or travel far from their homes, to escape natural disasters, famine, or war.

The capstone experience for students was a field trip to Baker’s Island, located in Massachusetts Bay just off the coast of Salem. The exhilarating journey was made possible through the Gables’ partnership with Essex Heritage. On the morning of August 9th, students embarked from the dock at nearby Blaney Street for a memorable voyage to the island.

Upon arrival, children were struck by the silence that enveloped the island.  Only seagulls’ cries, buzzing insects, and lapping waves could be heard.  “I’ve never done this!” one student exclaimed as the group climbed up from the shore through a wooded area.  “Tranquilo,” another boy commented.

Together, they summarized the whole point of travel – most of the time, we have fun!

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This post was written by Ryan Conary