It was a first for the two communities, a cultural arts excursion that brought together students from both Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka high schools, on a two-day trip to take in the sights and sounds of Tampa.
Wewa art teacher Stuart Vines and Port St Joe art teacher Julie Hodges collaborated on a trip south over spring break, bringing together Gulf County students on a trip that took them to the Morean Arts Center to see the Chihuly Collection of glass artwork, and a chance to watch a glass blowing demonstration. Plus there was the rich collection of works to be enjoyed at the Tampa Museum of Art.
Then there was a chance to combine literature with live performance, with a visit to Stageworks Theatre to see Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.
A walking tour of historic Ybor City, a nightcap on the Riverwalk, a ride on the old streetcars – it was an opportunity for young people who may not ever have a chance to take in these sights and sounds, to do it together.
“It took us about a year of collaborating to get a rich itinerary of experiences,” said Hodges. “We created this trip together to encompass history, literature, fine art, live theater, different cultures and foods.
“We were able to experience different modes of transportation, through taking the streetcar and navigating on foot through a large city, and what it means to encounter obstacles,” she said. “And in doing so, to create unity within Gulf County.
“I enjoy sharing my love of travel with my students and exposing them to unfamiliar regions and cultures,” said Hodges, who ever since 2014 has offered her students annual culture trips to all parts of the country and even to Italy.
“I believe that traveling teaches them to be independent thinkers by stepping out of their comfort zone,” she said. “Traveling shows them that there are more opportunities than what’s in their own neighborhood. Students learn to be self-reliant and to navigate the unfamiliar,
giving them confidence to venture out on their own, and imparting an appreciation for other cultures and places.”
Vines said the experience seemed to be rewarding for everyone who took part.
“Many of the students seemed to create new friendships as they experienced these things together,” he said. “I heard many comments from adults that we encountered on the trip, especially our tour guides, about the attentiveness and respectful behavior of our students.
“One in particular noted that he leads tours often for student groups and said he had never had a better behaved group of students in his many years of being a tour guide,” Vines said. “I personally enjoyed getting to know many of the Port St. Joe students and interacting with them.”
Sponsors, who covered the cost of the play, museum, and walking tour, made it possible to offer this type of trip at a low cost to the students. They included the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, Franklin’s Promise Coalition, Forgotten Coast Arts in Culture, Wewahitchka Woman’s Club. Principals Jay Bidwell and Sissy Godwin, Gulf County School Board, Gulf Schools Superintendent Jim Norton, Gulf County Sheriff Mike Harrison, Brooke and Kristin Wooten, Kim and Pearl Hunter, and Erin Gannon and Matthew Tschieder.