After 24 years of teaching, English teacher and department chair Cynthia Cowan is retiring. Known for her dedication to engaging students in classic literature as well as the news of the day, her legacy at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) will also include her caring nature, bright spirit, fashionable wardrobe, and the delicious food she has made and shared with students and faculty alike.
Ms. Cowan joined the English department in 2001 after teaching in multiple high schools in central New York, and has been department chair for the past three years. She says her favorite part of the job has been engaging her students in discussions about classic literature and nonfiction texts: “I like for students to talk about something that they’ve recently learned in an informed way, develop their own opinions, and feel really comfortable speaking in front of a large group.”
English department colleague Christine Ferrone spoke of Ms. Cowan’s dedication to her students: “Cyndy is kind and caring, and tends to the needs of her students both as learners and people. She wants her students to connect with the world around them, and often has them do so by connecting current events to literature.”
She added, “I have known Cyndy since she first began as a teacher at the high school. Besides being impeccably dressed day after day, she has been a steady presence in my life as a teacher, and has always been there to support me and my colleagues in whatever ways she can.”
Ms. Cowan is thankful for her English department colleagues as well. She said, “They made my job easy.”
What Ms. Cowan has found most rewarding about her teaching career has been the relationships she has built with students. “Developing connections with [students] where they respect you, want to be with you, want to talk to you, is not the easiest thing with teenagers. I really appreciate when students feel comfort, and feel as though they’re appreciated and recognized for what they think,” she said.
Junior Zach Smith had Ms. Cowan for English his freshman year. With the transition into high school being a tricky one for freshmen to navigate, Zach felt Ms. Cowan did a wonderful job bridging that gap. “After class, she would check in on her students and make sure we were doing well. She really connected with us as much as possible,” he said. “I remember one time I was feeling a little bit down during class, and she checked in with me afterward, making sure everything was all right. I really appreciated that, because it meant a lot to me that she cared about her students like that.”
Freshman Wadeline Hall is just finishing her year with Ms. Cowan. “She stands out in the way she dresses and how she decorates her room. She loves stripes and animal patterns, and it shows her colorful personality,” Wadeline said. “She encouraged me to put more detail in my writing, just like she does in her room.”
Many people may not know that Ms. Cowan’s career at MVRHS began in 1999 not as an English teacher, but as a pastry chef. Before moving to the Island, she took graduate classes at the Culinary Institute of America, and went on to own a big, banquet-style restaurant.
She said of that experience, “I realized that making desserts and breads for hundreds of people took away a bit of the joy I had found in baking.”
Ms. Cowan found she preferred to “put out a big spread and invite all of her family at the high school over.” She said, “It would be a super-nice way to relax and recognize each other.”
Culinary teacher and Career and Technical Education department chair Jack O’Malley complimented Ms. Cowan’s cooking. “She had several memorable Christmas parties for MVRHS faculty and staff. Her tenderloin and shrimp were always phenomenal,” he said, “but what I remember most were the bacon-fat gingersnaps.”
When reflecting on Ms. Cowan’s absence in the future, Zach said, “We’re going to miss Ms. Cowan a lot. Everything about her, really.”
While Ms. Cowan is unsure of exactly how she’ll keep herself busy next year, she knows she wants to stay engaged with young people as much as possible. She hopes to be involved working with kids either at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services or at the hospital.