The old return to help the new

JoEllen Meuse, a Martha's Vineyard Regional High School alumna, points at a map of the world as she teaches her freshman history class. —Curtis Fisher

By Annika Schmidt

In such a small community as Martha’s Vineyard, one might not find it surprising that many of the faculty at the regional high school (MVRHS) were once students. Currently, there are over 30 faculty members who were once MVRHS students themselves.

“MVRHS taught me how to develop friendships, work with others, and strive for education,” said Secretary to the Assistant Principals, Nancy Rogers, who graduated from the high school in 1968. The school back then, however, was much different than the high school today.

“First of all, our phones were attached to the walls, so we had to get through the day without being in constant contact with our parents,” Nancy said. The school rules were also more severe. The dress code banned girls from wearing pants, and skirt lengths were strict. “Girls were sent home to change if their skirt was too short,” Nancy said. Eating, chewing gum, and talking in class were also prohibited and would result in detention.

Many of the teachers who were once students at the school commented on the different courses offered at the school when they were students as opposed to now. Music teacher Abigail Chandler, Class of 1993, said, “We didn’t have half the amount of classes that are offered to students now.”  

Mrs. Chandler said that the most important part of her high school experience was the influence of her music teacher, Bob Nute, and the Minnesingers. “I was a student who could have easily lost my way but didn’t, because I had a teacher who was so invested in me and a group that I was so invested in,” she said.

Art teacher Chris Baer, Class of 1985, had a similar experience. “I was influenced by Paul Brissette and the art class I took here to continue a career in art,” he said.

While teachers and specific departments continue to influence the students of the high school, alumni teachers recognize some new shifts in the community. “Half the football team was in Minnesingers back then!” said Mrs. Chandler. “There were way more crossovers between departments.”

Overall though, many of the alumni teachers find the school community has changed for the better. “There wasn’t the kind of emotional support for students that there is today,” said Physics teacher Louis Hall, part of the Class of 2000. “My difficult family life translated over to school and there wasn’t really support for me,” he said.

“The level of tolerance for diversity is much greater now,” Nancy said. “I can’t imagine what the gay students in my class went through. They probably left the island and never came back because they didn’t feel accepted by the people they grew up with,” she said. Clubs today such as the Gay Straight Alliance provide support systems that the high school didn’t have in the past.

Some of the alumni have found their employment at the school to be circumstantial. “I wanted to live on Martha’s Vineyard, and a job opportunity opened up here at MVRHS,” said Mrs. Chandler. “It was the first teaching job I’ve ever had.”

Nancy started as the Minnesingers accompanist and helped out the music department during one teacher’s maternity leave. “I loved working at the school so much that I applied to be a substitute teacher. It was after that that the opportunity for my current job arose,” Nancy said. She is still, however, the Minnesingers accompanist and enjoys working with the arts department.

“The toughest thing about coming back to teach at your old school is that you’re revisiting your adolescence,” said Mr. Baer. “On the other hand, it’s an advantage to have been a student where you teach, because you understand the long term history and the patterns of how things change.”

“It is really different being on the other side of the desk,” said Mr. Hall. While many of the alumni find it difficult at times to teach in an environment where they once were taught, the end result is worth it.  “There is a really diverse student body in terms of ability, interests, and personal backgrounds, and my job gives me the opportunity to work with all of them and create an educational experience that is supportive, understanding, and meaningful,” he said.

“I’m giving back to the program and community that changed my life and meant so much to me, which is incredibly rewarding,” Mrs. Chandler said.