Rochester urban youth answering opportunity knocking by Shadi Kafi

Rochester urban youth answering opportunity knocking by Shadi Kafi


At the Alhambra Gardens, Granada, Spain: Ayesha Lee, Johnetta Frost, Shadi Kafi, Zaid Abdulsalam, Ismael Cortes. Missing student: Keaton Hall [All photos provided by Shadi Kafi]

THINK: Rochester City Students. The immediate thought is racial segregation, poverty, lack of opportunity. Now focus on Lack of Opportunity. Answering opportunity knocking requires a curious mindset open to new ideas and the willingness to act bravely and work hard. It’s about not falling short: “take it on” and “carry it through.”


American Airlines gifted students with first class tickets. March 25, 2016. Leaving Chicago Airport for Madrid.

group walikg

Royal Palace, Madrid

I teach at an urban college preparatory high school, often considered elite, serving 116 students. Our style is military—and successful—with high graduation rates and test scores. Expectations are high and so are the opportunities.

This year for the first time, an international travel experience was among those opportunities. Sunny Spain for spring break! Our trip made possible through a partnership I formed with EF Education Tours.

Asking my 9th grade History students if they could imagine going to Spain, I met legitimate fears anyone would face when encountering something new.

Can we afford it? Is it safe? Can we speak the same language? What do we eat? Where do we sleep? Who will we meet?   Building skills along the way, we answered these questions one step at a time. As we progressed, parents/guardians and students were required to acquire passports, manage fundraising efforts, attend meetings and keep an open mind.


Toledo, Spain

First, to address costs, students created a social media fundraising page, copying its link to a flyer using an example created by a parent, one whose child received a sponsorship paying his entire trip. I solicited gift cards from Walmart, Dog Town and Cheesecake Factory as raffle prizes. We sold Entertainment Coupon Books. I also received a $150.00 scholarship from the school for one student’s spending money. Parents/guardians also used their own funds. Through coaching and a lot of humor, we worked together to pay off students’ $3,100.00 travel expenses. American Airlines gifted students with first class tickets.

# 2

Street Food: Fresh Churros, Costa del Sol


Restaurante Sobrino de Botin, First Restaurant in the World, Madrid


City Center Food Market, Madrid

As for safety, students were given both the foreign 24-hour emergency number and U.S. emergency number. We also had a knowledgeable local tour guide on-site 24/7. Students’ medical conditions were documented prior to the trip. I had an emergency plan to contact home for any reason. EF was well-informed of safety threats, even changing our itinerary to stay out of Morocco.

buying stuff

Flea Market, Shopping in Madrid

We discussed keeping bags locked and doing passport checks every night. Students were instructed never to leave the group without permission and only for short distances while traveling in pairs. These instructions put safety concerns aside.

As students signed on, we were resolving all their questions:


City Center Food Market, Madrid

Can we speak the same language? Luckily, our students take Spanish in their high school and had some background. We also had a Spanish-speaker travel guide in our group who helped with communication.

What do we eat? Dietary restrictions were communicated to EF before the trip and students learned to welcome new foods. By the end, they loved trying new foods. Calamari and mussels were one student’s favorite!

Where do we sleep?  In their home away from home, students slept in groups of two to four. Sharing rooms with students from other schools on the tour was a bonding experience as we became more comfortable with each other in these new cities.


Abuelita Aracelli made a delicious meal the last night. We mailed her a thank you card to stay in touch.


Scavenger Hunt, Seville, immersing with locals and students from other schools

Who will we meet?  Several activities allowed us to speak with locals. Through an act of service, we gave food to a homeless woman. Through group play in Seville’s scavenger hunt, students asked locals for directions. They tied for 2nd place. They shared a homemade 5-course Spanish cooked Abuelita Aracelli and enjoyed with fellow students.

These combined experiences made it an experience beyond the experience.

The students will remember the benefits of answering opportunity knocking.  Envisioning beyond their local communities, beyond their city, beyond their country to a world embracing vision — priceless for our open minded urban youth in Rochester who were able to take it on and carry it through across the globe.

Next year, we hope to go to Costa Rica.  Never too early to take it on, please see our GoFundMe site.

graffit art

signing the mural across Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid


Shadi joins outpouring of support for Gilda’s Club; Talker gets thumbs down.

First Rochester flowers of Spring bloom at HAWT fashion show


Thanks for bringing Shadi’s story of students seeing sunny Spain to Starbucks, Talker’s off site headquarters at the Twelve Corner’s Starbucks. [Photo: Starbucks staff]

Porches: from Upper Monroe with Love

From Thurgood Marshall School of Law to Rochester Prep High School

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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