During Lincoln’s Community Conversation Tuesday night–the first of the eight MCHP teams to host a public announcement of the project–Beth ByersSmall, Mattanawcook Junior High School’s technology teacher (and team member), speculated on the reason for the high turnout of nearly 100 people.
“I wonder if timing has anything to do with it,” she said, remarking on the wisdom of a 6:30 PM start. “We begin a lot of school events at 6:00 PM and don’t often have this many people. Maybe that half-hour made the difference in people getting here.”
While it’s impossible to know if a mere 30 minutes turned what might have been a small group into a crowd representative of the community at large, Beth’s comment hit home. For this team, “timing is everything” might well serve as a project motto.
Consider how Lincoln ended up in the MCHP this year: The team originally applied for the 2008-2009 year but was not selected. Undaunted, team leader Heidi Harris and Lincoln Historical Society president Jeannette King forged ahead, applying for and receiving a modest grant to run a much smaller service-learning project. Students learned how to handle historic documents, came to understand the intrinsic value of primary sources, and digitized items for the historical society. Team members established strong intergenerational relationships that bridged school and community.
When it came time to apply for MCHP again last spring, the Lincoln folks had a strong case to make. They had become familiar with the technology, well-versed in their local historical collections, and a cohesive unit. They had shown their mettle as a team. Everything clicked. The application and phone interview clearly evoked the team members’ determination, heart, and belief in the value of service learning–and they were in.
Timing has been on this group’s side in other respects, too. The 7th and 8th grade teaching teams at Mattanawcook–both Social Studies and English/Language Arts instructors–operate like well-oiled machines. Many of the teachers have worked together for several years. They clearly like each other and have fun together, understand how their teaching styles and curricula interweave, and speak as one when acknowledging the value of their local history. It’s as if they move in perfect concert, with team leader Heidi Harris tapping out a steady beat for the others to follow.
Even the timing of meetings seems to work well. Lincoln’s team meeting falls smack dab in the middle of the month. This meant that the first official get-together in mid-August came as teachers were just beginning to get their heads back around academics, but not so close to the start of school that they were consumed by last-minute preparations.
The second official meeting was on Tuesday afternoon–prior to the public event–and lasted a mere hour. The reasons? A straightforward agenda, efficient facilitation by Heidi, and succinct contributions by team members. Oh–and because the team had met a week before to keep moving things along… and because a number of things have already been accomplished, such as narrowing down the exhibit topics. Heidi actually apologized that she was through her agenda in half the time allotted. “Not at all!” I assured her. “When you’re done, you’re done.”
Besides, there was that matter of needing to be back on school grounds a couple of hours later for the community event. They had publicized it every which way and were hoping for up to 50–that would be a fantastic turn-out. There was a spread of chocolate chip cookies and punch enough for that number. The “topic” posters were hanging on the wall for audience feedback. Alyssa Federico was ready with a basket to collect the slips of paper on which people with historical items to share would write their contact information. Heidi had planned on an interactive show-and-tell using the photograph of Main Street the team had uploaded to Maine Memory Network during MCHP Orientation. Jeannette King thought maybe five Historical Society members would come, but she wasn’t sure.
By 6:15, just a few souls milled around the gym. Some were students who looked like they’d just headed in from soccer practice. But what a difference 15 minutes makes. One hundred folding chairs had been set out for the event–wishful thinking, some may have felt–and by that magic start time of 6:30, very few of them were empty. Students had come in droves, many with parents for a real family affair. The Historical Society didn’t have just five members–they had 15. Mill workers were well-represented. The place was packed.
Halfway through, when Heidi invited audience members to get up from their seats to write down their ideas on the posters, groups of people congregated in every corner of the gym to talk about the project. I wandered around, listening to the excited buzz and watching young and old take up a marker and jot down their thoughts. This right here is the definition of community, I thought: Getting together for a common purpose. Expressing pride in one’s heritage. Feeling engaged in the process.
When this many people in a relatively small place (population: 5,000+) and a somewhat isolated location (an hour north of Bangor) come out for an announcement about a history project, one does tend to look for purely logical reasons, such as good timing. I think, however, there is another major factor at work here in both the MCHP group itself and the town at large: Team Spirit.