‘Their enthusiasm was awesome’

West Tisbury School first graders led a walk to support the Island Food Pantry.


West Tisbury School students streamed out of the building, led by the first graders, to walk for the Island Food Pantry in Oak Bluffs. With the teachers guiding them on the two laps around the campus, and some of the older students helping to chaperone the younger ones, excited chatter, laughter, high-fives, and singing of “Heigh ho, heigh ho, we’re walking around the school … Heigh ho, heigh ho, we’re walking for the Food Pantry” and other songs rang out — the start of a new tradition at the school. 

This event was a part of the new “West Tisbury walks for” program, an activity meant to connect the school community with the Island community that West Tisbury School Principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt came up with, according to Assistant Principal Mary Boyd. Each month, one class of the school picks an organization they want to support. 

“Every month, different grade levels will have a chance to pick a charity to focus on. They’ll organize whatever fundraising they want to do, and they’ll organize a walk,” Boyd said. “The walk may be simple, like today’s was around the building, or it might be more complicated and have us going somewhere, like a field trip.”

Alongside the walk, a box decorated by the first graders was placed in the school’s front lobby to collect donated food until Friday, Sept. 30. The decision to support the food pantry was made because of a connection to what the students learned, according to first grade teacher Tessa Rebello. 

“We study farms and farming with our first grade Social Studies curriculum, and Island Grown Initiative took us to Thimble Farm to glean potatoes,” Rebello said. “That launched the cause for the Food Pantry. First we glean potatoes, and that truckload brought potatoes to the Food Pantry.”

“We’re raising awareness with our walk,” first grade teacher Amy Hoff said. “We sent out a flier to the school and the parents, and the food’s been coming in.” 

The first graders “took on the whole responsibility” of setting up the walk, according to Hoff. 

“They’re really proud,” Rebello said.

“So are we,” Hoff added.

Rebello said the first grade’s yearlong theme is “farms, farming, and community on our Island,” so the walk helped launch the “thematic study for the whole entire year.” The first graders will do more gleaning, and figure out what community project they may want to do. Hoff said the students will be visiting “farms across the Island.”

Boyd said the goal is to get a walk done in each Up-Island town “to make sure we’re a representation of the region.” This first walk around the school was “a great first try.” 

“Their enthusiasm was awesome. It was great to see first graders step up as leaders, which is a fun thing for them to do. They’re the very first ones to be leading, as our littlest learners, so we’re very proud of them,” Boyd said, adding that the first graders asked on the intercom “Will you walk with me?” 

Some of the other grades went back inside the school after the first lap, the serpentine line of students shrinking as the walk neared its conclusion. After the walk, the first graders made a beeline to the playground to play for the 10 minutes before school dismissal.