On Monday, March 19, International High School hosted a “Grand Tea Party” in honor of Women’s History Month to “expose young ladies on how to govern themselves in all aspects of life.” The event, the invitation read, intended to impart on the student attendees that good manners can “mean the difference between success and failure in many aspects of life.”

Lifelong Paterson resident, and TAPinto Paterson contributor, Paula McDonald attended. This is her report:


“Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.” This quote is one of many spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement. Dr. King made equality for all his life’s mission and, although his life was tragically ended in 1968, his mission remains.

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In 2018 intelligence and character are valuable traits and if we honestly believe that it takes a village to raise a child, then, agreeably so, the goal of education must be more than two plus two.

At Paterson’s International High School, on the same land where the once notorious Grand Street Projects stood, is an educator that practices this very ideal. Dr. Robina Puryear-Castro is the Principal of this institution and has been for the ten years the school has been in existence.

Speaking to Dr. Castro was one of the most inspiring conversations I have ever had. I asked her about the reason and purpose for introducing Afternoon Tea to a mixture of young ladies ranging from freshman to juniors. These girls were of different ethnicities, races, and religions, and held different beliefs. They each had their own idea of the world and individual vision for their life, yet they all had one thing in common… integrity.

Dr. Castro thought about her personal story of raising two very successful daughters of her own, about the academic success achieved at International High School, and about the challenge she held herself accountable to - “what more can we do?” Her goal was to know that when her kids graduated she had done her part in giving the students of International the best chance at success. So Dr. Castro spoke to her fellow educators and instructed them to watch the students in the hallways and observe their interaction with other students and staff, then report back to her.

She then recruited a team of teachers and before the clock struck 12, Dr. Robina Puryear-Castro, Ms. Tammie Harrell-Simmons, Ms. Kathy Esquiche, Ms. Emily Rose, Mr. Julio Mora, and Ms Digna Perez were in full planning mode for International High School presents: “The Grand Tea Party”.

The girls all filed into the library donning black dresses and millinery. They were wearing beautiful hats in different spring colors. They were escorted to prepared tables decked out with white linen table cloths and white coverings on the chairs. They were served mini pastries and they drank tea from beautiful porcelain tea cups served out of eloquent ceramic tea kettles. They were welcomed by Dr. Castro and then Ms. Tammie Harrell-Simmons gave the proper explanation of a tea party.

Once the young ladies were welcomed and received their introduction to the event, Ms.Kathy Esquiche introduced the keynote speaker for the day, New Jersey’s Secretary of State, the Honorable Tahesha Way.

Secretary Way spoke candidly to the girls about her life’s journey. She shared that she knew early in her life that it would be her mind that would get her the opportunities she needed to succeed. She worked hard but it wasn’t until, what some call late in life, she turned to the law as a profession. As she spoke, the girls listened intently. At the end of her speech, she opened the floor to questions. Listening to the questions was exciting, to see the level of maturity the girls exhibited.

The questions were well thought out and spoken very well. Once the formal program was complete, I was able to speak to some of the young ladies one on one. As I spoke to the young ladies, each of them had different thoughts and views but the one sentiment to be universal among them was purpose. Each was able to open their minds and accept that maybe the journey they set for themselves could possibly change but the mission would remain.

Each of these ladies, Maliah McKenzie-11th grade, Olga Fanduiz- 11th grade, Genesis DeJesus-9th grade, Esther Marte- 11th grade, Natalie Tineo-11th grade, and Jaeyn Johnson-10th grade left the tea full hope and determination.

They were determined to make a difference in the world but most of all in their community. Yes, the young ladies from Paterson, New Jersey, a city that deals daily with its share of difficulties, have defied the status quo. With young ladies such as the ones I met in the library of International High School for Tea on March 19, 2018, I am certain that the city I was born in many years ago will definitely be in good hands.