Janice and Leo Frame teach completely different subjects and their classrooms, located at opposite ends of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School building, tell the story.
Mrs. Frame’s walls are covered in student artwork. Piles of oil and acrylic paints, sketches, magazines and student portfolios overcrowd table surfaces. Two bookcases haphazardly shelve every National Geographic since the 1960s. During a recent interview, three girls sat on tables nearby, chatting, singing and braiding each other’s hair.
Mr. Frame’s business classroom is clean, white and gray, and neatly organized. During a reporter’s visit to his classroom, a young man typed quietly on the class computer, waiting for Mr. Frame to accompany him to a job interview. Both the Frames teach elective courses: art and business. It’s what they studied in college, where they met almost five decades ago. But their impact stretches far beyond the classroom to their tireless work mentoring students and empowering them to find their own voices through leadership and the creative process.
Janice and Leo Frame will both retire this year.
And inside the corridors of the regional high school, there is general agreement that they will be missed.
“They are adored by kids, so whatever they brought to the table, the kids wanted to consume immediately,” said Tony Lombardi, another retiring teacher, who has worked closely with the Frames and says they always went out of their way to help students express themselves.
Mrs. Frame’s legacy is the passion for the creative process she has instilled in her students, and the evidence — artwork from years past hangs all over her house. She describes her classroom as a safe haven and a sanctuary for students, especially the kids who don’t learn easily in a traditional classroom. Each year, she has three or four students who rely on her as a mentor. “They come here and they just tell her everything, and ask for advice,“ Mr. Frame says. She also runs the Tuesday afternoon art club, and advises the award-winning Seabreezes magazine.
Mrs. Frame worked as an art teacher at the West Tisbury school for 15 years, before coming to the regional high school in 2000. She teaches drawing and painting, I and II, and advanced painting and drawing. An active visual artist herself, she considers her style classical. She also teaches at the college level.
In 1985, Mrs. Frame made the move to Martha’s Vineyard from Atlanta, Ga., out of concern for her children’s safety. At the time, the Atlanta serial child murders were still going on and her children were afraid to play outside their home. She’d been coming to the Island for summers, and knew it was safe here. “I asked her, where are you going?” Mr. Frame recalled. “You can’t earn a living on Martha’s Vineyard, that’s a tourist place, I said. She said, watch me, and she did, she showed me.”
Soon after, Mr. Frame came to join his family on the Island, leaving a job at an investment bank to become manager of the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs.
When he first taught at the high school, one of the only teachers of color, he recalled there was a culture of “subconscious stereotyping” at the high school. “I tried to not just end it, but to create a culture of acceptance,” he said, noting the help he received from Mrs. Frame, Marge Harris and Lynn Ditchfield, two other teachers at the school, as well as the administration.
In 1992, the high school multicultural club was born. In an event that took place over the course of five days, the club brought representatives from different cultures to the Island to hold workshops for students. One particular event made him pay more attention to the students of color. At the time, the coach of the football team had organized a fundraiser where the players would be auctioned off to other students as slaves. They’d carry their books, and sports equipment, basically do whatever they wanted. “The individual did not understand the cultural sensitivity of what they were doing,” Mr. Frame said. Some of the players approached Mr. Frame, almost in tears, saying, “I’m not going to be anybody’s slave and I don’t think anybody else should either,” he recalled.
As soon as the principal was made aware of the situation, the fundraiser was halted, but the experience got Mr. Frame thinking about how he could continue to be a resource for these young men. In 1992, his son Oman came up with the idea behind the Young Brothers to Men mentorship program, which would help minority students find their voices at school. The Young Brothers members were originally ethnic minority students, but in 2000, majority students wanted to become involved. The group, which now counts 60 members, became a space where students could share any discrimination they might have been experiencing at school.
“I told them, before you say anything you might regret, come and see me, before you throw a punch at anybody come and see me. I put them in a position of, if you will, power, because they didn’t have to fight back,” he said. “They felt like they were then being listened to, and a lot of the negative racial problems that may have existed more prevalently at that time were diminished.”
In his retirement, Mr. Frame will continue to run the group, which organizes food drives for Thanksgiving and invites role models to come and speak to the students about their experiences in high school and beyond. The high school students also serve as mentors to elementary school students. Each Young Brother wears a stole made of kente cloth around their neck when they graduate.
And if you go looking for Mrs. Frame next year, chances are you will find her painting and drawing in her basement studio in Edgartown. She’s also planning to pursue a degree in art therapy.
Looking back, she says teaching was the most challenging and rewarding career she could have chosen. “There is nothing more powerful than seeing a student grow,” she said.