Published in the March 3, 2016 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — Not many Americans have had a chance to travel to Cuba in the last 50-plus years, so when Wakefield Schools Superintendent Dr. Kim Smith had an opportunity to visit the island nation over February school vacation, she jumped at the chance.
She paid for the trip herself, traveling on a people-to-people visa with a delegation of educational leaders from Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire. She described the experience as “a complete educational and cultural immersion experience with the Cuban people.”
Smith’s group interacted with Cuban students of all ages as well as their teachers. But it wasn’t all business.
“We also experienced the music, art and culture of communities in Havana and Mantanzas,” Smith said, “as well as the gorgeous land and beaches of Varadero.”
While Cuba and the U.S. are very different countries in so many ways, what struck Smith were how similar Cuban students are to their American counterparts.
“Kids are kids everywhere in the world,” Smith observed. “The early childhood students were as full of joy and boundless energy as our children at Doyle. The kindergarten students sang and hugged us just as our students love to do. We had wonderful conversations with fifth grade students, so very much like our Galvin students, who told us everything about their school and community and then taught us a regional dance.
“They were just like our own kids,” Smith added, “including the adorable, mischievous boy who was poking the kids in the second row while his teacher was presenting.”
Smith said that she also had a chance to talk to some Cuban high school boys during their lunch break, “until they spotted some teenage girls and their attention was abruptly lost – how familiar!”
Some university students also shared their hopes and dreams with the American visitors, “reminding me of our own WMHS graduates,” Smith said, “ready for the world before them.”
Cuban educators, Smith noted, were just as devoted as their American counterparts.
“Not surprisingly, the teachers were just as ours,” Smith said, “dedicated and caring, working endlessly on behalf of their students.”
She was fully appreciative of the unique experience that the trip represented.
“It was a rich and emotional experience to be among the first 1 percent of U.S. and Cuban citizens to come together in this way in more than 50 years,” Smith said.
“The political, economic, social and historical elements of this unique country added to this unforgettable trip,” Smith said. “The most important take–away: The people of Cuba are proud, resilient and engaging — truly a magnificent people.”