MUHS’s Dunleavy ready for next chapter
MIDDLEBURY — Frankie Dunleavy often tells her students that a foreign language is like a puzzle. It’s a puzzle that has already been created; it’s up to the student to put together the pieces.
Dunleavy has helped hundreds of students put together those pieces during her more than three decades as a language teacher at Middlebury Union High School.
She’s now ready for the next challenge. She’ll wrap up her last class at MUHS next week.
“It’s time to move on,” she said during a recent interview.
Dunleavy’s family and fans are hosting a retirement soiree in her honor at American Flatbread in Middlebury on Sunday, June 12. The dinner and roast will be a fund-raiser for Addison Central Teens.
Dunleavy, a native of Great Britain, has immersed herself in languages her entire life. She received her early tutelage in a convent and went on to graduate from the University of London with an honors degree in French and a minor in English.
While at university, Dunleavy spent a year as a teaching assistant in France. Upon graduating, she spent two years in Germany working as a language assistant. Following that assignment she returned to England to work as a French and English teacher at her former high school.
Dunleavy moved to Vermont with her husband, Dana Yeaton, now an accomplished playwright and visiting assistant professor of theater at Middlebury College. She arrived at MUHS in 1979, starting as an aide in the special education program.
The MUHS principal at the time, Frank Kelly, saw great potential in Dunleavy and quickly hired her to fill a vacancy in the school’s language department in 1980.
“His criteria for hiring people included, did he think you were an interesting person for kids,” Dunleavy recalled. “If he thought you should be around kids, he made things happen.”
So Dunleavy herself started to make things happen with languages at MUHS, starting with French and Latin. She would later add Spanish to her teaching resume.
Dunleavy continues to believe that Latin is an undervalued language skill in many academic circles. Latin, she noted, can provide the foundation for learning many other modern languages. She herself took seven years of Latin as a student, and that background served her well as an instructor.
“If you study Latin, you know how it all goes together,” Dunleavy said. “If you take a Latin class, it will set you up for your English writing and any language that you take.”
Dunleavy credited the Middlebury community for helping her keep well-versed in the languages she teaches. Middlebury College is known internationally for its language programs.
“There are lots of opportunities,” Dunleavy said. She taught German at Middlebury College’s Summer Language Schools in 1981 and earned a scholarship to attend the college’s Spanish School during the summers of 1990 and 1991. She followed that up around a decade later with three summers in the college’s Italian School. She has occasionally audited other language classes at Middlebury.
All of those learning opportunities have made Dunleavy feel even better about her decision to move to the area more than three decades ago.
“When I followed Dana here, I had no idea where I was coming,” Dunleavy said. “As somebody who is a ‘language geek,’ it was Shangri-La.”
She tried to offer a similar experience for the many MUHS students whom she taught over the years. Along with drilling her students in the fundamentals, Dunleavy used social media, music, film, literature and travel abroad to help her young charges better relate to the languages they were learning.
Though classes were largely confined within the four walls of a classroom, Dunleavy noted a few strokes of the computer keyboard retrieved the latest articles from the French newspaper Libérationand teleport students to the Cannes Film Festival or a Lady Gaga concert on foreign soil.
“It is a great part of globalization,” Dunleavy said.
Fortunately, globetrotting has also been part of the game.
Once every couple of years, Dunleavy would lead student groups to Spain, France or Italy, where they could immerse themselves in the native language and culture.
“(The trips) were of immeasurable importance to the students,” Dunleavy said, noting the mix of history, culture and sightseeing, as well as opportunities to hear and produce the language they were learning.
“Very often, it’s in subsequent years that they understand the impact (the trips) had on them,” she said.
She noted some of the students in her Latin class have gone on the Italy trip and ended up studying Italian in college and eventually moved to Italy.
“For me, as a teacher, the joy is putting the kids in that environment, after you’ve told them about the Forum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower, the churros and chocolate in Spain,” Dunleavy said. “You can say, ‘There it is — do it. Figure it out and do it.’ That’s the bliss for me.”
Asked what she has enjoyed most in her teaching career, Dunleavy said, “watching kids kind of create themselves” through their knowledge of a different language.
“When you learn another language, you become another person,” she said, quoting from a poem she had read recently. “That has been so true to me.”
She explained that the tone, inflection and facial expressions of a person often change while using different languages. Such knowledge helped Dunleavy stand apart from her siblings and overcome what she explained had been a rather shy and insecure demeanor as a youth.
“It’s been about seeing kids get the opportunity to create and develop another person,” she said of her satisfaction from teaching.
Dunleavy leaves her high school teaching duties with a few apprehensions.
“My frustration is with the extent to which language is not really valued, in general,” Dunleavy said, adding that too often teachers bear disproportionate blame when a student does not succeed.
“If kids are not doing well, the school gets slammed.”
While she is retiring from MUHS, Dunleavy is not done as an educator. She would like to teach languages and the humanities, perhaps at the college level.
“I can’t not teach,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
Frankie Dunleavy’s family and fans are hosting a retirement soiree in her honor at American Flatbread in Middlebury on Sunday, June 12. The proceedings will begin with a dinner, dessert and roast from 6 to 8 p.m., with music by guitarist Stephen Kiernan. Following the roast there will be a “School’s Out Bash” from 8 to 10 p.m., with music from Do Jo and The Grift.
There will be a $4 cover charge for the bash and a comprehensive $28 fee for the dinner, dessert and roast, with proceeds to benefit the Addison Central Teens organization.
Dinner Reservations can be made at 388-3300 or [email protected]