Island teachers have their summers off in a place that is arguably one of the best in the world to spend the season - but few really embrace the vacation in summer vacation.

With demands for post-graduate degrees and a rising cost of living, many teachers leave the Vineyard to further their educations, and many more take on seasonal work or run their own enterprises.

For some Island teachers, summer is the time to pursue a particular love or passion - and more often than not, those pursuits can be incorporated in the classroom come September. 

"I think everyone thinks when school ends, we lay around and soak up the sun,"  said Tony Lombardi, who works in the special education department at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. "I don't know too many of us that do that."


Oak Bluffs School art teacher Kim O'Connor joins forces with her husband in the summertime to run their catering business Chef Works, which they started 20 years ago. The transition is ideal, she said. At the end of June, she looks forward to working with adults and college students in the industrial kitchen of their West Tisbury home. By the first of August, she misses the children and looks forward to going back to school.

"You're so creative for 10 months," said Mrs. O'Connor, who has been a teacher for 17 years. "You just need to turn off your creative brain for a minute and recharge that."

Chef Works counts six teachers as regular employees this summer.

"They're very dependable, they're very reliable," Mrs. O'Connor said. Some are friends from school and others sought her out for summer work.

Regional high school culinary arts teacher Jack O'Malley tends bar for Chef Works.

"You get to see these great Island houses and work with great chefs," Mr. O'Malley said. "That's part of the motivation - seeing what's at the end of those long driveways."

Mr. O'Malley spends the rest of the summer taking care of his four children, aged three, six, six and eleven, while his wife Maureen works at Panache, a hair salon she opened last summer in West Tisbury.

"I'm just Mr. Mom, fixing up the house and watching the kids," he said.

He likes working during summer vacation because it gives his summer variety.

"It breaks it up," Mr. O'Malley explained. "I get to talk to adults for a change."


Capt. John Nelson is a biology and environmental science teacher at the regional high school. During the summer, he captains the Skipper - a wooden-hulled fishing and party boat that takes up to 38 people twice a day from Oak Bluffs to fish for porgies, black sea bass and fluke. Mr. Nelson, who grew up in Hyannis, has spent every summer of his life "floating around on Nantucket Sound." The first time he worked on a party boat was in 1966 - on an identical model boat.

"Every day I sail the waters of Nantucket Sound as captain of the Skipper, I feel that I'm in the most incredible science laboratory on the planet earth," Mr. Nelson said. "It's an immense tool for me to be a better science educator."

He brings his experiences and observations of water temperature, weather conditions, fish populations and even Portuguese man-of-war into the classroom. He also talks to students about environmental changes since he was a boy.

"Each of those scientific observations enters my science lab with me in September, for me to better educate my students about the incredible Martha's Vineyard environment we live in every day," Mr. Nelson said. "It's just my life - and I love teaching, and I love being at sea, and I'm a very lucky guy to have both worlds, to be a part of both worlds."

Mr. Lombardi also pursues his passions full time in the summer as the program director for The Safe Haven Project, a nonprofit he co-founded in 1994 that focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention, awareness and community outreach year-round.


"I love what I do, so for me, time off means time to make a difference," said Mr. Lombardi, who also provides HIV/AIDS education to incoming freshman and graduating seniors at the high school. "It's the kind of work that's very fulfilling."

This summer, Mr. Lombardi has been speaking at colleges and organizing the second annual educational and outreach tour through Ghana, West Africa.

"We're trying to address the misconception and the stigma surrounding HIV that exists there," Mr. Lombardi said. "People really believe that it's actually a curse that falls upon families."

In August he will hold the first Summit on Service in Boston, which will teach young people how to create service projects and nonprofit organizations for the issues they are passionate about.

Lori Shaller, a world history and high school English teacher at the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, usually teaches teachers in the summertime, at institutes and universities. But this year, she is going to Israel to study the Hebrew language.

"When I was a kid, I didn't have a bat mitzvah and I didn't go to Hebrew school, so I didn't learn it then," Ms. Shaller explained. "My Jewish practice has gotten deeper as I've gotten older."


Ms. Shaller hopes to be fluent at the end of the six-week intensive program at Ben Gurion University in Beer'sheva.

"Really, my goal is to be able to read the holy text in its original language," she said. She hopes to bring her experience back to the classroom too.

"Israel's a hard conversation for a lot of people to have," Ms. Shaller said. "I feel as an educator, I am occasionally in a position of wanting or needing to teach about it, so I don't want to do that without knowing what I'm talking about, and I don't want to do it from a purely Jewish perspective."

Debbie Grant, an assistant kindergarten teacher at the Edgartown School, started her photography business long before she started teaching three years ago, but the two schedules blend so well together, she prefers to do both. In the summer, she shoots three or four portraits or weddings a week.

"It's usually about an hour to do a portrait," Ms. Grant said. "I have a lot of the day to be home relaxing and being with the kids." Weddings are an all-day affair, but she doesn't mind that either.

"I love shooting weddings," she said. "After eight hours of having two cameras on my back, it's exhausting, but it's more a physical exhaustion."


Many Islanders already know that regional high school Spanish teacher Jim Powell is spending his summer campaigning for the Republican nomination for state representative, but Mr. Powell is also working on his 28-acre sheep farm off Lamberts Cove Road.

"It's a great workout!" he said. "In the summertime, needless to say, teachers do things they love to do."

Mr. Powell keeps horn dorsets, marinos and sussexes on the farm.

"They're running at me just like pets!" he exclaimed over the phone.

But Mr. Powell is also sure to make time for the best Vineyard summer activites.

"You've got to take an hour to get down to the beach and go swimming," he said. "You have to keep your sense of connection to the Island."