Sidney Morris: Just the man for the job
From growing up on a dairy farm outside of Philadelphia, to learning to sail in Maine as a kid, to adopting a chimpanzee in the Congo, Sidney Morris has led an adventurous life. He has proven himself adaptable, as well as a master at drawing on and integrating his life experiences into his role as an educator. "I guess adventure is my game," remarks Mr. Morris, laughing.
A Chappaquiddick resident, Mr. Morris was recently named Manager of Education Programs for The FARM Institute (TFI). Two of the ideas he would like to explore in his new job at the Katama teaching farm are building an alternative energy vehicle to use for off-Island trips and introducing water buffaloes.
"Traditionally, the position that the Education Manager is taking on has always been two different positions," said TFI's Development Director Rob Goldfarb about the new position. "We had an education coordinator and a summer program director. It was taking those two positions and putting them into one job description. The needs of the farm were to have someone actively developing the outreach and building relationships within the community, and that happens throughout the four seasons."
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Mr. Morris approaches education in the way he has always approached life - with a do-it-yourself attitude. "What I've tried to do in my life is learn how to learn things," he says.
During his undergraduate years, Mr. Morris bought a truck in Europe and headed to Zambia to join up with an Outward Bound group. During the 3,000-mile drive, he rescued a baby chimp, raised it, and eventually delivered it to Jane Goodall in Tanzania. "To see her in the wild observing chimpanzees was an amazing experience," he says. "My fascination and communication with animals has always been strong."
Returning to the United States, Mr. Morris completed a degree in education at Amherst College and embarked on a teaching career. Of his first job at an alternative school, Mr. Morris says, "Part of what that experience did for me was learn to open myself to different approaches." He has maintained a strong dedication to exploring alternatives to traditional education.
Mr. Morris moved to Martha's Vineyard in the 70s with his wife, Margeret Knight, who had built her own home on Chappaquiddick without electricity, using only hand tools.
In the 80s, Mr. Morris started the Sant Bani School, Martha's Vineyard's only K-8 independent school at the time.
Mr. Morris also began the Challenge to Change initiative at the West Tisbury and Oak Bluffs schools in the early 90s. "The purpose of the program is to take kids out in the community and give them real life hands-on experience." Mr. Morris adds, "I have a track record of getting kids out of the classroom." In 1996 he helped found the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, where he taught for 12 years, leading trips that included sailing expeditions and winter camping in Vermont.
Mr. Morris also co-founded the Chappaquiddick Community Center, where his sailing program for kids led to the creation of Vineyard Voyagers, a maritime studies program that exposes young people to traditional boat building and sailing.
Along the way, Mr. Morris earned a master's degree from Harvard and implemented and coordinated all the technology for the new Oak Bluffs school building. Like many skills that Mr. Morris has gained, his technical proficiency arose from a particular challenge. "When I started my first school someone gave us a computer and I had to learn how to use it," he recalls.
TFI's Director Matthew Goldfarb identifies the responsibilities that Mr. Morris will take on as Education Manager. "There are three main functions or targets that he's going to build and work on this year: understanding and identifying the needs of the community so that we can build and target our initiatives to those needs; a structured approach to quality improvement; and identifying new opportunities to use partnerships on Martha's Vineyard to better utilize our synergies and organization."
The director continues, "We were really fortunate. We had a lot of really great on-Island candidates, as well as a lot of applicants from off Island. Sidney is a phenomenal educator."
Rob Goldfarb adds, "Our main crop is education. That's why it was really important to find someone who had a strong background and commitment to education and to empowering our youth."
Mr. Morris remarks on his latest endeavor: "The FARM Institute is another great opportunity for kids to be able to pursue passions they might have. You get a lot more mileage by supporting a child's interest than by trying to force something on him."