Eleven-year-old Bryan Acevedo had mixed feelings when his family told him they’d be moving to Geneva from their Staten Island home in June 2005.
Although he’s always been a nature lover and was looking forward to participating in more outdoor activities in Geneva, Bryan wasn’t sure how interesting his life would become once he’d moved so far from the fast-paced New York City environment.
“I figured that after a few weeks or two month’s time tops, I’d be bored out of my wits,” recalled Bryan, who is now 13.
Bryan was pleasantly surprised to learn he’d been wrong about the Geneva area, and an essay he wrote about the experience of moving there recently earned him statewide recognition.
At English language arts teacher Cathy Caster’s request, Bryan and his seventh-grade classmates at St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva recently participated in an essay contest sponsored by the New York Newspaper Publishers Association’s Newspapers in Education Program. The students read weekly installments of the serial story “Afloat on the Erie Canal,” which was published in the Finger Lakes Times and 22 other daily newspapers throughout the state.
The story’s main characters are a boy named Nat and his friend, Rodney, who get in trouble for making paper footballs in class, Bryan said. The boys are challenged to make up for their crimes by traveling the Erie Canal with Nat’s Uncle Patrick and filling all 121 of their paper footballs with facts they’d learned about the canal.
The two boys in the story thought they’d hate learning about the Erie Canal, but they actually ended up enjoying the experience, Bryan said. After finishing the serial, Caster asked her students to write an essay describing experiences they’d dreaded but that had turned out to be good.
“As soon as she said that I thought about my move to Geneva,” Bryan said.
Caster then entered all of her student’s essays in the Newspapers in Education essay contest. Students across the state submitted more than 600 essays, and Bryan’s entry was chosen as the winning essay from the Finger Lakes region. He and five other students were honored June 8 at the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse.
Bryan said he was extremely surprised when he found out he was one of the six winners.
“I was ecstatic. I was running through the house calling all my friends,” he said. “I would never have thought of myself as good enough at writing to win an essay contest. I guess this was a perfect topic. It’s something I feel strongly about.”
When Bryan learned about his impending move to Geneva, he felt the way he imagined Nat and Rodney felt when they found out they needed to learn about the Erie Canal, according to Bryan’s essay.
“I felt that way because I was moving to where there was no mall within a 20-minute drive, no real arcade, museums or big city,” Bryan wrote. “Nat and Rodney had thought they knew all they needed and wanted to know about the Erie Canal. I had thought I knew all I wanted to know about the Finger Lakes and this area.”
To make matters worse, none of Bryan’s friends had ever even heard of Geneva, N.Y.
“To tell you the truth, everyone thought I was moving to Switzerland,” Bryan said.
“As I started actually trying to enjoy myself and started trying to make the best out of it, like Nat and Rodney had, I started to notice that with all the historical facts, all the animals and the friendly people this place was as full of life as the city,” Bryan wrote in his essay. “In social studies they tell us about how this was the hot spot where everyone was … so it was kind of a nice surprise.”
Bryan was surprised to learn that Elizabeth B. Blackwell, the first female doctor, had studied at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, that famous painter Arthur Dove had spent time in Geneva and that nearby Seneca Falls was the birthplace of the women’s rights movement.
“This area has as much history as any other in the world,” he wrote.
Bryan has tried to soak up as much of the local culture as possible in the two years he’s lived in Geneva. He’s been taking sailing lessons for one year, and he likes fishing and enjoying the area’s wildlife and open spaces.
“In New York City, a lot of property was one-quarter of an acre, and over here a lot of property is 200-plus acres,” said Bryan, whose family now lives on 27 acres. “You have to get used to seeing more roadkill all around, and you don’t see as much pollution as in New York City.”
“I am not there yet but when I can move out, I think I am going to stay in Geneva, NY for a while, maybe even the rest of my life,” Bryan wrote. “I am happy I moved to Geneva and happy my parents pushed me to move here.”