Originally published in The Weekly Packet, June 19, 2014
Three BHCS teachers retire amidst praise and fireworks
From left, Beth Jackson, Maryanne Lewandowski and Julie O’Neill, teachers from Blue Hill Consoldiated School who retire this year—after a collective 72 years of teaching at the school.
by Anne Berleant
For the Blue Hill Consolidated School, saying farewell to three long-time teachers meant throwing a party. Food and music served as a prelude to warm words of praise for Beth Jackson, Maryanne Lewandowski and Julie O’Neill at the June 12 bash. A fireworks display seemed an appropriate finish.
The three teachers will retire as the school year ends, and all reflected on their careers and the changes they have seen.
For Jackson, who helped start a school library out of a small grant in 1987, “It’s hard so say goodbye.”
Jackson began as a Title I reading teacher 27 years ago and was a driving force behind the library that stands today—“the heart of the school,” as Principal Della Martin described it at the celebration—“It’s hard to say goodbye.”
Her first year at BHCS, there was no library. Then, the school received a state grant designed to “get books in the hands of kids,” she said. “One small part of [my Title I] job was to start this library.” She created it in a former boys locker room with a few shelves of books. That was 1987, and from that point on, “it kept growing.” By 1991, a new addition had been added to the school, with the library as “this amazing center.” Jackson returned to graduate school three years later for a master’s degree in Library Science. Around the same time, being the school librarian became her full-time job.
Trained as a technical writer, with a degree in international studies and experience in both those fields, she used those skills as a librarian —“finding [her] niche and then being able to be the support within it to help things happen.”
During her tenure, Jackson has spearheaded the Maine Student Book Awards day and Project Acceptance, a day-long program for middle schoolers centered around the theme of one book, comprising a talk by its author and workshops. One year, bullying was the theme, another year it was “building bridges through relationships.” She helped form the recent, trophy-winning school chess team, served as co-chairman of the PTF, was involved in bringing the Schoodic sculpture and its attendant educational component to Blue Hill and building a new playground.
“Beth is the ultimate integrator,” said Martin in a speech at the farewell celebration.
“If someone had told me I was going to be a children’s librarian in Maine, I would have said I couldn’t imagine it,” Jackson said. Then, after some thought she added, “I now can’t imagine a better spot for me.”
Lewandowski spent 20 of her 30 years at BHCS teaching sixth graders, and is still passionate about that particular group of students.
“They’re smart, they’re funny; they don’t have to be cool. They can’t ask enough questions,” she said.
Lewandowski said she is “known” for taking her students on field trips. On the day following the celebration, she took her class to the Challenger Center. She led the school chess team on their trip to a national championship in Atlanta this spring. Seventeen years ago, she and former teacher Margaret Baldwin took their class to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; now, it is an annual trip.
“We also have to remember the ‘often-controversial’ Boston trip,” said Martin in her speech at the event, “for her students to experience a world-class museum and a chance to authentically share their deep knowledge of ancient civilizations…For some kids, that’s the one big trip of their lives.”
Lewandowski also started Science Camp, staying around the clock with students in the woods, dorms, tents and cabins, for several days. And she has taken solo field trips as well, earning a summer tour of China from her involvement with the Five College Center for East Asian Studies, returning to share her deepened knowledge with her students.
Highlights of her career were those projects where she “worked with other teachers and parents to plan big, memorable events,” like the Schoodic sculpture, the new playground and Science Camp.
While some things have changed in the teaching profession over the last three decades, like technology, for example, Lewandowski shrugs at the idea. “It’s different, but it’s always the same….Sixth graders are so excited to learn new things. I’m going to miss their excitement.”
For O’Neill, speech teacher and therapist, leaving “has been harder than I thought. I’ve been holding these little ones longer than [usual.]” Of her 15 years at BHCS, she said, with a laugh, “It’s been a good gig.”
Speech therapy has evolved over her tenure, she said, and become “much richer…[Now] we’re working with students identified with a language disability.”
Speech, or “how you say your words,” used to be the bedrock of speech therapy. “We used to treat [students] all the time,” O’Neill said. “Now we don’t. [The problems] go away on their own.”
Language disabilities, on the other hand, comprise the content and form of language, and their social and pragmatic use, “how you take it in and how you express your thoughts.” Language involves how one asks for and receives information, interacts with peers, interprets body language and uses social skills. Language disabilities, O’Neill said, “can become more demanding as [students] get older.”
In her work with students, whether one-on-one or in small groups, O’Neill said she has no particularly outstanding teaching memories. They are all “incorporated into your very being. They are part of me,” she said.
Martin shared stories and a different perspective at the retirement celebration. One of O’Neill’s former students introduced her to a companion as “the lady who taught me to talk,” Martin said. Another called her, as an adult, for advice on an upcoming job interview. “Seeing those students…as adults whose lives she had participated in and improved, that is the ultimate highlight. For us, those who have watched her diligence and mastery…all these years, it’s been awesome.”