From the March 19, 1954 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

All the talk about new schools, makes us feel sometimes that all things educational that were practiced before might have been somehow wrong. We forget that the new buildings and new theories have been devised merely to meet new conditions. We forget that the educational systems and plants of earlier days also met the conditions that prevailed in those days.

Sometimes, if we look closely, we can see in those older systems good and heartwarming things that we may never see again, because the more a town’s population grows, the more the older theories have to be discarded.

But something of the old lingers in the schools of the up-Island towns where the populations have stood comparatively still over the years. At the Chilmark School, for instance, there are two teachers who together are still able to guide the Chilmark children through the first seven grades of their formal education. Learning is pleasant; shyness is at a minimum; self-expression and self-confidence is the keynote. The best aspects of both the old and the new are here integrated into a unique institution. The morning dawned bright on St. Patrick’s Day. At quarter to nine that morning, most of the children had already arrived and were playing in the yard. Another group was due on the last trip of the “school bus,” a station wagon driven by Ralph Tilton. Nearly all the children were involved in an early morning game of soccer, but two little girls sat sunning themselves on the doorstep. Inside, Mrs. Donald LeMar Poole, who teaches the fourth, fifth and seventh grades (there are no pupils in the sixth grade this year), and Mrs. Elliot Mayhew, who teaches the first, second and third grades, were making preparations for beginning the day.

Mrs. Poole’s preparations in her classroom, were interrupted by a boy who wanted some of the difficulties of the previous day’s arithmetic lessons straightened out. While she paused to help him, a little girl with her blond hair drawn back to a saucy pony tail was pacing the floor in Mrs. Mayhew’s room, casting anxious glances at the clock.

Mrs. Mayhew asked the little girl, whose name was Bonny Sherwood, if she was tired of waiting. She said that she was. Her teacher sympathized with her but said that she would have to wait just a few more minutes. The little girl looked once more at the clock on the wall and then began to walk about again in anticipatory fashion.

The minutes clicked on and finally the long hand of the clock pointed directly to the hour. Mrs. Mayhew told the little girl that she could ring the bell now. With an astonishing alacrity, the little girl changed her mood, ran happily into the chamber that was once the vestibule of the building, and made a jump for the bell rope.

Down came the rope and the girl, and a small noise came from the belfry. Then up swung the rope and the girl with pony tail and skirts flying, and the bell rang out clear and loud. Two more times up and down the little girl swung before she was accomplished and she let herself drop to the floor, face smiling. Already the soccer players were coming in.

A hustle and a bustle were going on in Mrs. Poole’s room as the children got settled in their desks.

Mrs. Poole asked the “housekeepres” to pass out the spelling papers. While this was being done by a boy and a girl, Mrs. Poole reminded Diane that she had wanted to tell about St. Partick’s Day. Diane explained that the day was celebrated in honor of St. Patrick. “St. Patrick was very religious man and he was captured by the Druids,” she said, adding that on this day everybody wears green, because Irish shamrocks are green. Another girl said that shamrocks were “just another kind of clover.”

“I know something else,” said Stanley. “He drove out all the snakes in Rhode Island.”

Mrs. Poole told him that Rhode Island wasn’t right.

“Connecticut?” Stanley asked.

The pupils could tell by the expression on Mrs. Poole’s face that that wasn’t right either, so they started volunteering other answers. One of the answers was Ireland. The teacher explained how important it was to pronounce words carefully so such mistakes would not be made, and she suggested that Stanley go to the map and find Ireland, so he would not confuse it with Rhode Island again.

The proper location of Ireland was determined and the spelling lesson was launched.

The routine of the day had been established, and an industriousness permeated the air. There was industry but there was informality, too, as the children unconstrainedly asked questions of their teacher. And she had time to devote to all of them as individuals with individual learning problems. The quietness of the children working on their problems in Mrs. Poole’s room allowed the sounds from the other side of the partition to heard, sound of Mrs. Mayhew calling out the spelling words to the first, second and third grades.

The day at the county school was well on its way.

Compiled by Hilary Wall