Natural History Education

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

The following letter was sent to the All-Island School Committee:

For almost 40 years, Felix Neck has been providing generations of Island school children experiences in nature. Through the years, participating in a Felix Neck field trip has been an exciting and important part of the Island school experience. Our programs are vital to the educational experience of teachers, students and parents alike.

Teaching, inspiring and creating lifelong memories has been our calling and our gift to the community for generations. Our contract with the school system provides curriculum-based field trips, classroom visits, outdoor recreational opportunities, and resources for teachers, students and parents that align with the state educational frameworks. The Vineyard school experience would not be the same without Felix Neck’s programs and staff.

We have held down the cost for the schools for many years. The $12,000 contract provides for up to 165 programs (in the classroom and on conservation lands) and additional support for teachers and administrators. We estimate that the true cost of providing these programs is at least $32,000 annually and have been fortunate to have additional support ($6,000) from the Edey Foundation. Because we believe that our school-based nature and environmental education programs are an essential and important part of the Island schools, we provide the additional funding in-kind to support our school-based program.

Our costs to provide these quality programs have grown exponentially, while the payment from the schools has not changed. While we understand that everyone is feeling the pinch in the current economic climate, we are hopeful that you will help us to continue this tradition by funding the Felix Neck school programs to the best of your abilities. I am happy to meet with you to discuss Felix Neck’s educational programs if it would be helpful.

Suzan Bellincampi, Sanctuary Director


Right Kind of Stewardship

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

The following letter was sent to the All-Island School Committee:

We are writing to urge you to continue to bring Felix Neck’s educational programs to your schools and also to bring your students to Felix Neck. These programs make a difference in the education of every child progressing though the school system and are important to the future contributions of these young people to society. As judges at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School science fair through the years we have personally witnessed the benefits of these programs in student projects. We are also impressed with the long-lasting effects of these programs in the stewardship of our Island by your graduates.

Please do your utmost to continue the Felix Neck programs.

Anita P. and Frederick H.C. Hotchkiss

Vineyard Haven

String Theory

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

If you had the choice of paying for an educational method guaranteed to improve your child’s learning skills would you vote yes? Well, that’s exactly the choice presented to the Vineyard school system, parents and taxpayers with the threat to cut the strings program.

I produced an award-winning public television program that aired in June called The Music Instinct: Science and Song. It presented groundbreaking work in neuroscience proving that early musical training leads to improvement in verbal skills and mathematical skills as well as in reasoning abilities and spatial perception. Merely listening to music does not present long-term results but doing music does. This is hard scientific evidence going far beyond the speculation publicized a few years back that listening to Mozart could enhance skills. The latest science comes from research around the world at institutions including Harvard Medical School and the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

I hear that $8,500 has been found for a school doctor. But the schools already have nurses. And I’m sure students have access to other doctors. What they will lose if the strings program is cut is access to education that will produce lifelong benefits.

I hope that the school system and taxpayers will do the right thing and make sure that Vineyard students do not get short changed.

Elena Mannes


Please Don’t Cut the Strings

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

The following letter was sent to Vineyard schools superintendent James H. Weiss:

I am writing on behalf of the board of the Vineyard Sinfonietta, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the mission of promoting participation in the playing and performance of classical music on Martha’s Vineyard. We would like to register our strong concern over cuts to the elementary strings program that are proposed in the draft budget you have submitted to the All-Island School Committee.

A relatively small item in the total budget, the strings program serves 203 students across five Islands schools — a level of participation that reflects high interest on the part of students and families. Each participant in the strings program stands to gain immediate benefit by acquiring the self-discipline, physical skills and cultural knowledge that comes with learning to play an instrument. They gain the prospect of many decades of pleasure, satisfaction, and rewarding social interaction as they pursue music into adulthood. And they offer the prospect of returning benefits to the community for years to come in the form of musical performance.

There are few options for beginning string players outside of the schools, and fewer still that are affordable to every family. The proposed funding cuts to this program will surely reduce the numbers who can participate and/or the quality of teaching that the dedicated string staff will be able to provide. In its effect on the quality of life of would-be string players and on the community at large, the proposed cut to the strings program represents a major reduction in benefits for small financial savings. While we appreciate the challenges of budgeting in the face of declining enrollments and economic turmoil, we strongly urge you and the All-Island School Committee to find some other way to balance the budget. Music education is a necessity, not a luxury, and gutting the string program would do far too much harm for far too little financial gain.

Matthew L. Pelikan

Oak Bluffs

Strings of Joy

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

The following letter was sent to Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss:

As a former classroom teacher and a former string student, I am writing to urge you to continue support of the Island String Program.

It is a vital component to well-rounded learners of all ages. I took up the viola along with some of my four to five students while teaching in Chilmark, and it was a remarkable experience. I was even part of the student orchestra for a period of time. I saw firsthand the challenges and joy of success it brings to all who engage in the program, parents and children alike.

The arts are a crucial part of a complete education and I shudder to think of cutbacks in any area that pertains to them.

Lynne E. Whiting

West Tisbury