Lincoln school saying goodbye to dynamic duo
LINCOLN — For two Lincoln thespians, the curtain is about to fall. The pair, teachers at Lincoln Community School whose combined teaching experience spans more than half a century, are retiring at the end of this school year.
Alice Leeds and Donna Wood, the dynamic duo who have shepherded Lincoln youngsters through the brookside school for decades, will say goodbye to their final classes June 16.
The pair for many years organized a series of ambitious theater productions (even Shakespeare!) at the school.
Despite working in adjacent rooms in the tiny school year after year, each said they never tired of the other. Wood credited the good working relationship the pair have to a stark difference in their personalities.
“We are very different, night and day, yin and yang,” Wood joked. “I tell Alice to lighten up, and then she’ll turn around to me and say ‘Settle down.’ That’s been our motto.”
Leeds, 62, started teaching at LCS in 1989. A native of the Jersey Shore, she was a member of the first graduating class of the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, where she majored in English. Leeds began her career teaching at a Montessori school in Manhattan, and has also taught in North Carolina and England.
With the exception of three years in which she lived in Philadelphia while her husband attended seminary school, Wood, 65, has lived in New York and New England her whole life. She grew up in Hudson Falls, N.Y., and graduated from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh in 1971.
Originally a nursing student, Wood said she changed her mind halfway through her studies, recalling how her mother taught in a one-room schoolhouse for 25 years.
“My instructor said, ‘You’re a natural at this, you should keep with it,’” Wood recalled.
With her degree, Wood first taught in the small Adirondack town of Fort Ann, before moving to Vermont. She started teaching at Lincoln Community School in 1993.
HIGH POINTS IN LINCOLN
Leeds said one of the most memorable days of her teaching career occurred in 2006 when the school hosted civil rights icon Ruby Bridges. Bridges gained national notoriety at the age of six when in 1960 she braved threats and intimidation to become the first black student to attend William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.
The school, through the help of parents and the community, raised $3,000 to cover Bridges’ expenses from the trip. In preparation for her visit, the students completed a unit on civil rights and performed a play about Bridges.
“That was a phenomenal experience to bring someone of that stature to our community,” Leeds said. “
Leeds said Bridges’ presentation to the children was especially moving because Bridges had just lost her home to Hurricane Katrina and one of her sons to a drive-by shooting.
“It really hit home,” Leeds said. “It really opened their eyes to racism, and it was profound.”
Wood said the school felt honored to host Bridges, who usually only spoke at large urban schools.
“I think it was powerful that she talked to the whole school, and talked about her family,” Wood said.
The pair said another memorable experience from their tenure was a play students in 2012 wrote and performed in honor of their classmate, Jesus Rosa-Ivey Jr., who succumbed to complications from cerebral palsy that year.
“We lost him just as we were about to rehearse the play about a child with cerebral palsy,” Leeds said. “We were going to have him in the play, but instead we had his empty wheelchair portray the child.”
Leeds said what has kept her sane over all the years is continually updating the curriculum, rather than recycling lesson plans.
“What keeps it alive is changing it every year,” Leeds said. “We’re a little crazy and even my principal tried to talk me out of it, but every two years we did a different play with a different theme.”
This year, as the pair’s swan song, the students performed a play about the Flood of 1998, which damaged much of the town.
“In all of the 25 years here, we’ve never done a play about the river,” Leeds said. “I don’t think I would be able to have the level of enthusiasm if we didn’t keep doing fresh material.”
Leeds said that even after a quarter century in the classroom, she still does not consider herself a master.
“Some days I go home thinking that I’ve really got it, and the next day I think ‘Where did I ever get the nerve to step into a classroom?’” Leeds said. “That is the nature of teaching; it never stops being challenging.”
Asked what she would miss the most about teaching, Wood said, unsurprisingly, the children.
“I’ll miss their bright eyes,” Wood said. “Especially when I pull a prank on them.”
Wood, scheming jokester of the pair, was known to put paper hole punches in students’ shoes and place a bowling ball in an unsuspecting pupil’s backpack.
Wood said she’ll also miss the humor students mastering the English language unintentionally insert into their writing. She recalled a day years ago when a student wrote, “Vermont depends a lot on tourist hunting.”
“We laughed for days about that one,” Wood said, the unfortunate turn of phrase cracking her up to this day.
Both Wood and Leeds were quick to praise the school’s close-knit staff, who they said were always supportive.
Asked about their plans for retirement, the duo said they’re still dedicated to finishing out the school year strong.
“I have thought as far as Monday the 16th,” Wood said, referencing the last day of school. “This time of year you don’t have time for anything else.”
Leeds said that she expects retirement to be a huge change in her life.
“It’s going to be dropping off a cliff, for sure,” she said.
She added that she plans to do more theater work with children, but will take the time to enjoy the finer things in life.
“I want to be able to read a book in the afternoon and take a walk in the morning if it’s nice out, and travel when no one else is traveling,” Leeds said.
But despite their reluctance to call it a career, Leeds and Wood both said it’s time to quit while they’re ahead.
“The kids teach us, and they’re smarter than we are,” Leeds said. “And they’re getting smarter faster, so we better get out while we can.”
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