A treasure trove

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It’s easy to take for granted what you have in your community.

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum, which is in the process of renovating a new home for its collection of Island artifacts at the former Marine Hospital in Vineyard Haven, is a case in point.

Lots of towns have historical commissions and some even have town archives whose collections are sometimes open to the public for review and research, but it’s rare to have a museum whose singular focus is chronicling local history.

And what a valuable resource that is to have to enhance the education of Martha’s Vineyard students.

Two weeks ago, we were privileged to see the museum staff in action.

Two Tisbury School kindergarten teachers, out for a walk on a Vineyard beach, plucked a discovery from the shoreline. They weren’t sure if they had anything beyond a rock, but they thought it was worth checking out because of its unique shape — a triangular, tooth-shaped object.

So they approached museum staff with their discovery. And from there, a teachable moment was born.

On a Monday morning earlier this month, Ann Ducharme, the museum’s education director, and Kimmy Ulmer, a scientist at Sail MV, took the students through the scientific process comparing the discovery with a museum artifact of a megalodon tooth.

The students had an impressive knowledge of all things sharks, showing the preparation they received for their Monday morning session with museum staff. (It’s as if they live on an Island where “Jaws” was filmed, or something.) Some of them were so knowledgeable about sharks you’d think we had the next Greg Skomal in our midst. Skomal, of course, is the shark expert who studies great whites on the Cape and Islands and who cut his teeth as a shark researcher on Martha’s Vineyard.

The lesson also included some hands-on experiences. To show just how large a megalodon is compared to a great white shark, Ducharme gave the students ribbons to stretch out in the hallway. Talk about an eye-opening experiment. The difference between 60 feet (megalodon) and 20 feet (great white) is striking when it’s stretched down an elementary school corridor.

Kindergartners also got a chance to get a close-up look at a megalodon tooth, as well as other fossils from the museum’s collection. And we have to admit that we didn’t mind one bit that 5-year-olds holding magnifying glasses make such adorable photographs.

In the end, it was almost better that the item found by the two teachers — Rita Jeffers and Shannon Moore — didn’t turn out to be a megalodon tooth, because beyond all of the detailed information the students learned that morning is this valuable life lesson: What you hope for isn’t always so, especially when it comes to science, but the discovery never ends.

“You could find a megalodon tooth on Martha’s Vineyard,” Ducharme told the students. “You should keep looking.”

We can hardly wait for our next walk on the beach, particularly after a storm.

We already knew the value of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. We use the museum and its knowledgeable staff, particularly Bow Van Riper, a research expert and editor of the Dukes County Intelligencer, as a resource on a regular basis to help shape our stories on Island history.

We’re fortunate to live in a place where the Martha’s Vineyard Museum is alive and thriving.