ELL Teacher, NHS
Pride comes easily to this splendid island, but residents here pretty much let the charming shops, stunning beaches, protected moors, and renowned restaurants quietly speak for themselves. Nantucket is special-- all know it-- and so perhaps it's only the amazing history of the island that really needs a little vocal horn-tooting. For example, not many outsiders know that Nantucket was the energy capital of the world at one point in history. Whaler Pride goes deep, rooted in an exceptional place inhabited then and now by uncommon people.
I'm what locals call "a wash-ashore,” one who only recently made my way out to this "real corner of the world," as Herman Melville called it. There was something truly magical about crossing the thirty miles of ocean on a ferry from Cape Cod on a sunny August day, and seeing for the first time the two, tall white church spires over the busy harbor and historic village of Nantucket. Days earlier, I had just been hired as a teacher at Nantucket High School via Skype interviews. As I toured the island for the first time, I could hardly believe my good fortune in landing on such a solitary, shining jewel at sea. Then, when I walked into the high school foyer and saw a sun-washed finback whale skeleton hanging from the rafters, my jaw dropped almost as wide as the whale's. The dramatic Hall of the Whale in my new workplace is a visible reminder of the hard, dangerous work and long, well-chronicled voyages taken by the ancestors of families still living here.
At that first convocation in September, Superintendent Cozort spoke of "Whaler Pride" in his welcoming remarks to all of us working in the three public schools. This official motto does reflect a real spirit shared by so many longtime residents, both inside and outside the school community. People take a genuine pride and gratification in having found ways to be successful out here where the winds often howl at up to 40-60 mph, and electricity- let alone housing- is not cheap. There's a vigorous work ethic here where everyone does whatever it takes to pay for and to enjoy all the island has to offer. While life here may now be a breeze compared to those resilient whalers' lives from the 1800's, I see teaching assistants, administrators, librarians, kitchen staff, teachers, substitutes, and custodians working everyday to make the schools the best they can be. Maybe it's the excellence and beauty of the entire island that is calling us, like the steamship whistle every morning, calling us to sail, to give it our all as we nurture and challenge the children in our schools. Additionally, the kids we are educating in this tightly-knit community are those of our friends, relatives, and neighbors. So we care a lot, and we want everyone to know we're doing the best we can with their children.
We work long days in the schools on Nantucket. Whaler Pride is felt as a happy spirit of knowing we’re working hard to give every young person an opportunity to discover their unique potential. NPS teachers stay after school an extra half an hour for four days a week to assist young people. The volunteerism here is at a level I have never seen in my previous thirty years of working on the mainland (or "America", as it’s called). On Nantucket, it's one for all and all for one! When there is a need or an opportunity, Nantucketers just step up and get the job done. Here are some noteworthy examples.
Every fall many islanders come to the high school for a full evening of celebrating Hispanics and their culture. Before the December holidays, the community supports a huge, day-long Chinese auction, and a bake and craft fair with parents, businesses, and students working to raise not hundreds but tens of thousands of dollars every year for the senior class’s graduation, dinner, dance, and other activities. The Wintertide Arts Show at Nantucket High recently had a large turnout to see and enjoy students' art and photography, their woodwork from shop, treats from the culinary program, and hear students perform “Poetry Out Loud.” For Christmas, school children decorate lighted trees that line the streets downtown for shoppers to admire. The high school choir performs Christmas concerts for appreciative audiences on many evenings in December. In January, a make-your-own-team volleyball tourney gives all the high school students a fun way to compete and let off some steam. The schools truly are a social hub for the entire community. Each of these events calls for countless hours of planning and implementation gladly given by school personnel.
A long-time New Englander told me, "Wow- you jumped right over Martha's Vineyard, the island of millionaires, to the island of billionaires!" While this comment reflects a real island rivalry, the year-round residents on Nantucket are humble working folks who are grounded in a quiet pride of knowing they've cleverly figured out how to make it here. Many, including those in the schools, have two, or even three jobs. Nantucket is flourishing these days, as small businesses, restaurants, inns, and those working in construction, house cleaning, and landscaping, are seeing boom times. Many high school kids- locals and Central American immigrants-- work long hours after school and in the summer. But Nantucketers take as much pride in their resourceful ingenuity as they do their work ethic. While all of the New England schools take a week-long "winter break" at the same time, the Whalers prefer to enjoy the week after the mainland vacation, traveling off island to less crowded destinations, and competing less for prime plane seats. Competitive juices are better spent winning the coveted Island Cup in front of the hundreds of cheering Whaler football fans who ferried over to the Vineyard this year. Whaler Pride!
Administrators and teachers are proud to connect our students to the many world-class cultural opportunities offered here. The Nantucket Project and Nantucket Film Festival are two events that not only draw to the island some of the most creative and inspiring people in the world, but also enable our students to engage with them. At the elementary school, on the last day before the Christmas holiday, there's a joyous sing-along with famous Santa and his Elf who put on quite the show! The Whaler Pride of hard work in our classrooms extends to the sea where each summer some lucky students get a chance to hoist the masts and sail on the replica of a grand tall ship first launched in 1813.
Finally, two anecdotes may illustrate how Whaler Pride works “in the trenches,” so to speak. On my first day touring my new school, I checked on what would be my office space in a shared classroom and there, to my surprise, stood two administrators- not a custodian- cleaning out the room. So, I quickly learned- this is the Whaler way. Just roll up your sleeves, and quietly do what needs to be done- whatever it is. When the work is done, the pride carries over. On the night in June when all the seniors were celebrating their soon-to-be graduation with a delicious seafood dinner and dancing, the superintendent walked over to a table with teachers new to the island. Mr. Cozort leaned over to greet us, smiled coyly, and asked, "So- how many of you came from a school district where there was the option to have your Senior Ball at either of TWO different yacht clubs offering their services?"
With only a few more years left in my teaching career, I love working in a school district with so many happy, satisfied people. The children and young adults are learning so much, and the schools have such high expectations for all. The feeling of Whaler Pride on Nantucket is real. After a hard day of work, the beach beckons, and we earned it.