Princeton students bring 'Arts Alive' to NYC school children

Jan. 31, 2002 5:10 p.m.

About 130 enthusiastic New York City school children and their parents joined a group of Princeton University students at theaters and museums Wednesday for the kickoff of the University's Arts Alive program. Arts Alive is providing live arts and cultural experiences this winter for up to 10,000 youngsters from schools affected by the Sept. 11 attacks.

Giddy with anticipation, students from Public Schools 20 and 234 gathered on the steps of Manhattan's American Museum of Natural History, where they were matched with 10 Princeton students who had volunteered to accompany them through the museum.

Princeton senior Martha Quesada wasted no time getting acquainted with her five young charges, all fifth-graders at P.S. 20. She showed them a map of the museum so they could decide which exhibits to visit. "The monkeys are the most important," Vivian, 10, told her. "Do you want to go to the dinosaur section?" asked their teacher, Sara Joseph. "YES!" several voices replied in unison. The students are in grades one through five.

Inside, Quesada's group made its way down the "Hall of Asian Mammals," gazing wide-eyed at the exhibits of tigers, rhinoceros and monkeys. "The monkeys are hanging from trees! Look!" said Zok, 10, pointing. A walk through the "Women of Islam" exhibit prompted the students to tell Quesada what they had learned recently about the Muslim world. "The women can't show their faces," observed Vivian. "They do that because that's their religion," added fifth-grader Keiry. "They show their beauty to their husbands only."

Other students visited an exhibit on the rainforest, which delighted them and their guide, Princeton sophomore Meredith Root-Bernstein. "In one spot they showed animals that were extinct, and they showed their bones," recalled Mohammed, who is in the fifth grade.

The Arts Alive program is focused on working with school children who were either relocated or dislocated as a result of the attacks or because they are in communities that suffered an especially high concentration of those who lost their lives in the attacks and rescue efforts. The students who attend P.S. 234, located on Greenwich Street in TriBeCa, have been attending classes at other schools since the Sept. 11 attacks. This week the school's staff is preparing to move back to its regular school building. Some students at P.S. 20 lost family members in the attacks.

Princeton students have volunteered to accompany the school children and will eventually develop educational programs related to the arts events they are attending. The events will include dance, music and theater performances and visits to art galleries and other museums.

The participation of Princeton students has been coordinated through the sophomore class and the student Performing Arts Council. So far, the number of students who have asked to take part has far exceeded the number of spots available. Princeton is conducting the Arts Alive program in partnership with HAI, a New York City-based not-for-profit organization founded in 1969 to provide access to the arts for the elderly, individuals with disabilities and at-risk youth.

Also on Wednesday, a group of Princeton students took school children to the Broadway shows "42nd Street" and "Beauty and the Beast." Those visiting the American Museum of Natural History went to the Hayden Planetarium as well and viewed the film "Space Show." A few gasps could be heard from the children as they saw how small the Earth is compared to the universe. "This is so amazing," Vivian whispered to a friend. The favorite moment for many of the children was the film's simulation of a black hole. "I wish we'd gone through the black hole three times," said fifth-grader Shanea.

The museum's many interactive displays were especially alluring for the children. Zok and Vivian admired the huge dinosaur skeletons towering over them, and touched a triceratops nose horn that is 65 million years old. "Wow, dinosaurs were all over the world?" Zok asked as she checked out a globe that showed where dinosaurs once lived.

When the trip concluded, the students agreed that it had been a lot of fun. Zok especially enjoyed visiting the museum with her Princeton guide, Martha Quesada. "She's cool. I'm happy I went with her."

Before bidding her four boys goodbye, Princeton sophomore Sarah Tomkins told them, "You guys should come visit Princeton. There's kids' stuff there. You'd like it." As she waved goodbye to the children, Tomkins grinned broadly. "I haven't had so much fun in years," she said.

Arts Alive is one of four programs the University has created with a $1 million commitment to assist individuals, especially young people, most directly affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and to help support New York City's renewal and recovery from those attacks. For more information on the programs, click here .

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601