To the Editor:
My heartfelt thanks to the Island community.
In the past few weeks, I made a decision to retire from my teaching position at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. That decision was neither petulant, nor was it impetuous. It was a thoughtful analysis of my situation, and a realization that I can more effectively continue to serve this beloved community in ways other than teaching at the high school.
I am writing now to thank the Island community for the outpouring of love, flowers, letters, messages, visits, and the five-minute standing ovation from the seniors at Class Night that followed my decision. I am truly overwhelmed by the kindness of so many of my students, both this year’s and those from many years ago. I want to thank all those families and community members who have offered so much support and love throughout what has been a challenging period of my life. Teaching is a lot like gardening; you do your best, try to stimulate growth and beauty, and hope that is what you will get. I am so happy to be able to say that I am so proud of what I helped to nurture.
It has been my strong conviction throughout the 25 years that I have taught at the regional high school that every student, whatever their background, ethnicity, or affinity with school is a totally worthwhile human being with unique and special talents. Everything that I have learned as a teacher has been from meeting students where they are and helping them to achieve their goals. Throughout the years we put on plays, made movies, painted murals, and engaged in active teaching programs in three elementary schools, and students excelled because in all of these activities, they could find a place to develop their own strength and passion. Our dramatic activities ranged from researching the names of victims of the Irish Famine shipwrecked off Muskeget and reading each name aloud on the beach at Chappaquiddick, dramatic reconstructions and trials of famous people and significant events in history, the awardwinning Brazilian American Friendship Lunch, musical presentations and school-wide cultural events engaging all students and many faculty. All of the classes were engaged with teaching younger students, and all research on education shows that we retain 90 percent of what we teach.
These activities, and many others, were possible because of the support of this community. Throughout the years, so many people have helped and have believed in the potential of all students. Because of your generous support, hundreds of students have traveled to Ireland, been able to hold events celebrating their achievements, entertain guests who have included the late Dr. Ries Vanderpol and Sami Steigmann, both survivors of the Holocaust; the Brazilian Consul General, Facing History and Ourselves, Irish dance troupes, the Harvard School of Brazilian Studies, and presentations on numerous countries. This Island community has helped fund those activities, both financially and in terms of emotional support. This indeed, is the beloved community, and I am truly appreciative of all that it has given. Both I and the students have been blessed.
One of our most significant achievements has been the building of the African American Heritage Trail, now a thriving entity of 26 sites that attracts hundreds of visitors each year. The trail organization now gives scholarships to graduating students, and employs former students as guides and tour leaders. We built it together, and every student who passed through my classes contributed to it.
Yesterday I was on Achill Island in County Mayo, Ireland, and a memory came back to me of taking a group of 26 students to tour that remarkable place. Needless to say, despite every precaution, one very shy student immediately needed a bathroom, so we knocked on an isolated house that doubled as a rural Post Office, and asked if this one young woman could use the bathroom. Irish hospitality is legendary, and the girl was invited in, and was swiftly followed by 25 other students. This onslaught was greeted by the people of the house with good humor, and the young woman who had needed to use the bathroom emerged from the back of the house leading a calf on a rope and conversing happily with the farmer who had loaned the animal to her. That memory came to my mind, as it does to the students who were on that trip and who often mention it to me. There are so many memories, and we cannot list them all, but they live on in our collective story. I would be remiss not to thank the MV NAACP, the Holy Ghost Society, the Wampanoag Tribe, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, the Hebrew Center, and the numerous community members who have given their time and expertise to my classes over many years.
We have over the past 25 years built shared memories and have wept together over our tragic losses and rejoiced in our young people’s achievements. I came among you as an immigrant from another country and culture, and was embraced by you, and together we built a shared history.
From the bottom of my heart I thank all of those community members who reached out to me over the past few weeks with such kindness. I will never forget you.
Elaine Cawley Weintraub