LYME REPORTING

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

Reporting cases of Lyme disease and other infectious diseases in Massachusetts to the state board of health has long been hindered by time-consuming paperwork. Incomplete data collection creates confusion in interpreting prevalence and patterns of transmission.

In the immediate future, electronic medical record keeping — which is becoming law across the country — will surely improve the epidemiological data. With a finger flick on a keyboard a practitioner can instantly notify the board of health of a suspected or definite case of Lyme or other pathogens.

The new technology eases the burden of assembling and interpreting data. Public health will move into a new era of improved diagnosis and will help every practitioner and patient at points of care on this Island and across the country.

Dr. Gerry Yukevich

and Dr. Bruce Stelle

Vineyard Haven

FOUNDER’S REMORSE

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

After reading an article about the Vineyard Playhouse’s Fourth Grade Theatre Project going dark after 17 years, I was struck by how none of the news about this sea change in the schools has expressed what has actually ended on the Island.

When my 27-year-old son started fourth grade at the Tisbury School, jackhammers were still working on a renovation that fall. MJ Bruder Munafo agreed to open the playhouse for a program to get the kids out of the noise twice a week, and she and I founded the Fourth Grade Theatre Project. Necessity was the mother of this invention, but what we didn’t anticipate was the magic that happened. “Zeus” was a shy little boy even the teachers recommended would not be appropriate for the acting team. He would have never taken the social risk in a school tryout in front of his peers. But on foreign turf, handled with the professional protocol of the Vineyard Playhouse, this boy proved to himself he was not what they all expected. He could be “king of the gods” — a personal victory he would not have achieved at school.

During each of the 17 years that followed, 10-year-olds proved themselves able to meet a challenge that wasn’t evaluated with a letter grade, but with the pride of huge collective accomplishment. All chose their path in the production, all were team players and all took a bow on a professional stage, before the general public. Each year the lessons of teamwork and overcoming self-doubt brought tears to our eyes.

When a little girl took her “production team” to a business in Oak Bluffs that her aunt owned to present the pitch for selling an ad in the play program, that child carried the pride of family and a lesson in business to her friends and ultimately the public who read the program. When Pam Benjamin encouraged an insecure scene painter to add his own fantasy sea creature to the backdrop, fantasy next to reality was hailed as a brilliant stroke that all could see. When Paul Munafo trusted a nine-year-old girl to run the sound board, shock waves rocked the male-dominated technical team, but that crack of lightning happened at the precise moment the lights flashed — and the public oooed and awed. And when the script called for a crab to scuttle around the stage, Abby Bailey and Marlene DiStefano were servants to the construction ideas of their unconstrained 10-year-old costumers. This level of one-on-one teaching going an extra mile won many coveted local, state and national grant awards for the Fourth Grade Theatre Project, including several National Endowment for the Arts grants. But this year many Islanders are out of an expected off-season job.

The impact on our children of an unusually excellent and wise teacher, a best friend or an inspirational community experience are the things that build us, that we remember for the rest of our lives. At the end of each Fourth Grade Theatre Project season, children write their comments for the Vineyard Playhouse and staff. Every year phrases are repeated: “I’ll never forget how I felt,” or “The best time of my life,” or “I didn’t think I could do it.” And a local theatre became a community art house they owned as Islanders.

When I left the program after 12 years, I was replaced by Kate Hancock, a former fourth grade teacher with theatre and curriculum chops. All the fourth grade teachers have devotedly guided their students and over its 17 years, this project has employed a long list of local year-round residents who are also theatre professionals who have led their “teams” with expertise and great love. Too many to list in this space, they should be acknowledged for all to see and thanked for their spirited work with our children.

Lessons learned from these teachers were not about putting on a play. They were life lessons, like those learned on the decks of the Shenandoah when that program was also available to our fifth-grade students. School administrators worry about time spent on this type of learning puts true education second to a school’s test scores. The kids should come first.

Georgia Morris

Vineyard Haven

HARD TO REPLACE

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

I am very saddened to hear that the Island schools have discontinued the Fourth Grade Theatre Project. Writing, producing and performing the play was the absolute highlight of my daughter’s time at the Tisbury School. The memory of Justine Cassell’s Seagull that year still makes me smile.

I am also very unhappy about the way the decision was reached. It was kept close to the vest — so much so, that the schools apparently even failed to inform the Vineyard Playhouse until it was time to schedule this year’s program. An absolutely unique program that has introduced 17 years worth of Island kids to the joy and discipline, the traditions and vibrancy of live theatre was quietly killed without notice to the community, parents or the Vineyard Playhouse.

As an alternative to the Fourth Grade Theatre Project, the Tisbury School proposes hiring a person to come in and run a drama program in class. No doubt it is cheaper in time and money (though I understand that much of the cost of the Fourth Grade Theatre Project was covered by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts).

Yet it is hard to imagine a single person in a classroom, however talented, managing to equal the experience of rehearsing and performing a play in a working theatre, with lights, sound board, costumes, makeup and the sound of “Five minutes to curtain, Five minutes . . .” and the applause of a packed house. What were they thinking?

I deeply regret that MJ Munafo and the actors and tech people at the playhouse have been treated so discourteously. I can only suspect that it was done to avoid a firestorm of protest from parents. MJ and her colleagues have unexpectedly lost an important portion of their winter income, which, had they had sufficient notice, they might have had the chance to replace. That’s bad. Even worse, the children in the fourth grade this year and no doubt in future years will have a narrower and less inspiring school experience. Certainly, they will have more classroom time to prepare for the MCAS examinations. But the loss of the Fourth Grade Theatre Project in order to focus more on the test, if that is what the thinking was, seems a step in the wrong direction to me. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that the whole point of educating our kids is to raise well-rounded individuals, not to score well on the MCAS exams.

Petra Lent McCarron

Vineyard Haven

SAVE THE MIDDLE

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

The following letter was written by the Martha’s Vineyard Democrats to Sen. John Kerry and the Congressional Super Committee:

Our goal in writing this letter is to impart our belief in the import of the preservation of a robust middle class for this country.

We offer suggestions on expense reduction and revenue enhancement in four areas of concern to address the financial deficit in our country.

In the economy, we urge no reduction of unemployment benefits, foreign aid and infrastructure funding, including mass transit. We suggest cuts in out-sourcing of American jobs, most corporate subsidies and loopholes given to big business. We urge an increase in taxes of the top one per cent income earners and all corporations and further increase of taxes on those corporations that outsource American jobs.

In achieving a robust middle class we urge no cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, which is self-funded, and the mortgage interest deduction. Do not cut farm subsidies to professional family farms. Do not cut public education, including Head Start. Reduce corporate subsidies, unless they produce American jobs.

On the environment, we urge no cuts to the EPA and to maintain funding for all green energy and green technology efforts. We encourage cuts of subsidies to big oil, big coal and nuclear power. Aggressive pursuit of environmental violators should result in painful fines to those who desecrate the environment.

With the military, do not cut veterans’ benefits. However, a cut to the top one per cent of military salaries is in order. Reduce/end the war. Cut deficit spending 25 per cent across the board. One job producer is to end outsourcing to foreign and private companies.

We trust you take these suggestions seriously. There is an urgent need to address the financial imbalance in the country as we rebound from the recession. We appreciate your grasp of the important role played by the middle class in this country.

Binnie Ravitch

Vineyard Haven

Thomas Dresser

Oak Bluffs

NEW BUSiNESS

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

Please join me for the grand opening of my soon-to-be-established business Roundabout Suit. The festivities will be held in the center of the roundabout at a future date — to be announced.

Said business, of a semi, nonbinding legal aspect and of most deplorable origin, will be catering to the multitudes of maimed and dearly departed walkers, cyclists and motorists that endeavoured, though no misconceptions of their own, to navigate the aforementioned besmirchment (no previous experience required). Upon receipt of my pending riches I will purchase a new pickup truck (mine is spent) so as to be able to give all those who still find roundabouts impressive an open-air, one-way ride to the boat.

For directions to the grand opening, just follow the miles of preceedingly insalubrious roundabout signage.

Rob Hammett

Oak Bluffs

PEERLESS

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

It is common knowledge that when young people need help they typically seek out their friends for advice and support. Although friends do the best they can to help, many young people do not have the skills to recognize the potential seriousness of an issue or they might simply have incorrect information.

On Nov. 2 and 3, 41 newly peer-nominated students between ninth and 12th grade, along with four faculty members were invited to participate in the sixth annual Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School peer outreach retreat. The retreat was cofacilitated by 11 senior student members.

The goal of the peer outreach program is to tap into the informal helping network that already exists among students. This extensive training provides these students, who are already serving as helpers, with current and accurate information about the issues that most concern them; teaches them the appropriate skills that will help them help their friends more effectively; and increases their involvement with their friends, their school, their families and their community.

In addition to the retreat training, each peer outreach student will participate in ongoing trainings throughout the school year. For these trainings, we will invite professionals from the community to educate these students in recognizing and addressing issues such as chemical abuse and dependency, depression and suicide, bullying, teen dating violence and sexual assault.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Alexandra M. Gagnon Foundation which generously awards the high school a yearly grant to support this retreat and our ongoing trainings. I would also like to thank the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center for providing us with a safe, comfortable space to meet.

Finally I would like to commend the 40 new peer outreach students and the faculty members that participated, as well as the 11 seniors who led the retreat. The combination of information these students received, skills they develop and their overall involvement will allow the peer outreach program to provide a comprehensive approach to help young people grow up healthy.

Amy Lilavois

Oak Bluffs

The writer is school adjustment counselor for the regional high school.