January 16, 2012
This fall, when Thomas Armstrong and Brenna VanNostrand begin seventh grade at Mayfield Jr./Sr. High School, they’ll have no trouble answering the classic question, “What did you do over your summer vacation?” In fact, they’re certain to have plenty of stories to share after spending 19 days traveling around England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales as People to People Student Ambassadors.
“We’re going to visit five different castles, do a reenactment of a medieval battle and have a medieval banquet,” Thomas said. “We’re also going to get to ride the London Eye,” Brenna added, referring to the tallest Ferris wheel in the Western Hemisphere.
Those are just some of the experiences the students will have on their journey. According to the People to People website, www.peopletopeople.com, the students will learn about Irish culture through music and dance, kiss the Blarney Stone, search for the Loch Ness monster, visit the Cliffs of Moher and meet a current or former member of Parliament or the British Cabinet.
“Our hopes for Brenna is for her to see that there’s more to the world than Fulton County,” said her mom, Taryn O’Brien. “We want her to be able to understand different cultures and learn their histories on a hands-on basis. On this trip, she’ll be able to learn in a fun environment.”
Both students learned over the summer that they had been nominated for People to People, but the identity of the nominator remains a mystery.
“We like to think that Tommy’s love of school, his enthusiasm to learn about other cultures and his general nature and personality were the reasons for his recommendation and selection,” said Cheryl Armstrong, Thomas’ mother, who went to the former Soviet Union as a People to People Student Ambassador in 1991. “I never learned who recommended me to People to People, but would love to find out who helped to create this great opportunity for Tommy.”
After attending an informational meeting, both students had to submit letters of recommendation and complete an application and interview before being accepted into the program. They will attend four orientation meetings before departing from New York’s JFK airport on July 11.
“Both Thomas and Brenna are well-liked, positive members of our class,” said Amy Codi, the students’ English teacher, on behalf of the sixth-grade teaching team. “Thomas is outgoing and infatuated with learning about other cultures and historical happenings. Brenna, who was elected by her peers as class president, sets a great example for others to follow. We’re excited for both of them to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we have no doubt that they’ll make us proud.”
Although being selected to the Student Ambassador program is clearly a prestigious honor, the tuition for the trip isn’t cheap: Each student must raise $6,500 to cover airfare, accommodations, meals and admissions fees to museums and other attractions. The families are joining forces with two other local student ambassadors, Emily Clizbe of Johnstown and Kyle Prentice of Galway, to host a spaghetti dinner on March 10 at the Broadalbin American Legion. The dinner will include a basket raffle featuring items donated by more than 35 community businesses. The four students will also split the proceeds from a pancake breakfast at the Johnstown Applebee’s on April 15. On Feb. 11, Brenna and Emily will host a breakfast and raffle at the Broadalbin Masonic Lodge, while Thomas has tentative plans to hold a bake sale at the Gloversville Wal-Mart that day. Brenna and Thomas have already raised some money through raffles for iPads and Kindle Fires and plan to hold additional raffles in the spring.
Both families have been working with Mayfield Elementary Principal Nicholas Criscone, who has helped organize and get the word out about the fundraisers.
“When I traveled with People to People 20 years ago, my school was either unwilling or unable to help,” Mrs. Armstrong said. “The support and encouragement Tommy has seen and received in this whole process underlines the reason we moved to Mayfield four years ago. Tommy has thrived in the school and community, and they have set great examples for him and all the kids in Mayfield.”
Anyone interested in helping the students with their fundraising efforts is encouraged to attend upcoming fundraising events. Direct donations can be made by contacting the students’ parents: Taryn O’Brien, Brenna’s mother and Cheryl Armstrong, Thomas’ mother. Donations to Thomas can also be made at his fundraising website. Donations to Brenna can be made via check, payable to Brenna VanNostrand, by mail or in person at the Fulton County Credit Union, 355 Hales Mills Road, PO Box #232, Gloversville, NY 12078.