Sag Harbor school district officials recently approved a nine-day trip to Cuba for Pierson High School students to provide an opportunity for them to see a point in history that they likely will remember for the rest of their lives, the superintendent said.
The trip will take place during the February break and is being coordinated by Spanish language and art department teachers at the high school. The tour likely will include study of Cuban music and art as well as culture, cuisine, a visit to a Cuban school, a cooking class, and studying political and social history.
"The board feels it is a unique opportunity," board member David Diskin said. "The vision of the district is to try to give kids as many opportunities inside and outside of the district as possible and to have a global vision."
The trip's approval comes just months after President Barack Obama announced his intention to begin normalizing relations with Cuba. In January, he eased travel and trade restrictions, and he has removed Cuba from the government's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Small groups now are allowed to travel to the country, including ones for educational purposes, Sag Harbor Superintendent Katy Graves said.
"This is such a turning point in history," Graves said.
The group will consist of about 30 students from all grades. They will explore the role of religious freedom, culture and politics in Cuban life. None have yet been selected or signed up to go. The students pay for the tour at a cost of about $3,500.
"Cuba is just opening up now and in many years Cuba is going to evolve," Diskin said. "And it is a totalitarian regime and that is something you can't understand until you see it face-to-face and contrast with a free country."
In January, James Wiley, a Hofstra University professor of global studies and geography, co-led a group of about 15 college students on a 17-day tour of Cuba to study the country's geography, history, economics, politics and culture.
He said the Sag Harbor students' itinerary offers "really a great combination of things.
"It is great they are going to visit a school and . . . the children on the Cuban side will be very, very curious about them," he said. "Cubans are very aware of how difficult it is for Americans to visit them and they appreciate the fact that the Americans they meet have taken the extra effort to visit them."
Wiley has planned another Hofstra trip to Cuba in January 2016.
Over the past 15 years, Sag Harbor students have traveled to Italy, France, Hawaii and Spain. The district has researched and identified a number of travel companies for the Cuban tour but has not yet contracted with one.
"We are so far out on the East End of Long Island and we have to broaden their world," Graves said. "The teachers try and capture these opportunities. . . . Our children are going to see a moment in time and they are going to see the crystallization of where Cuba is now."