Maria Libby: A fond farewell

Mon, 05/11/2020 - 8:30am

Some people in our lovely community know that I have spent many years in the middle school building. I moved to Maine for the start of fifth grade, which was then housed in the Andrews Wing. I remained on that campus through high school graduation.

I came back to teach math in the late 1990s, and I have been here ever since. A lot of my life's time and energy has been spent within those walls.

While I was principal there and when I left for the Central Office, I knew full well that my best years in education would always be my years at that middle school. I loved being principal, and most of all, I loved the students. Why I moved on is the theme of a different story and includes a calling to serve.

My attachment to that place inspired me to document every student tile that had been installed over the past 19 years (the past seven years have been saved for the new building.)

When I heard, I just couldn't let them be destroyed without saving a piece of that history. It was Thursday or Friday of last week that I heard no one had found the time to do it; there wasn't really a whole lot of time to give it thought. I just jumped in. What happened as I photographed the tiles, despite the fact that I was laying on the ground between step ladders and bags of salt for parts of it, was that the experience transformed from a questionable task in giving up my Saturday into such a blessing.

First, I noticed so many patterns. There were many, many sailboats, and lake and ocean scenes, a tribute to the way living on this spread of Maine’s coast becomes a part of you. 

Not surprisingly, a lot of boys chose to leave behind a legacy of sports obsession. I captured a lot of basketballs, baseball diamonds, and professional sports’ team logos.

I was impressed with what incredible artists some of our students were in seventh grade! A string of friends, now in their late 20s, painted beautiful tiles that were all near each other: Macy Heal, Kayla Hart, and Erika Alex. 

I saw student names I hadn't thought about in nearly two decades — Kameron Koepke, Brett Burnside, Julia Aroneau, Dale Winsper, Sam Cantlin, Andrea Foote, Nikki Rubenstein, Molly Messenga, Oliver Bradeen, Pat Maguire, Allison Ettinger, Danica Paine, Tori Xie, Erica Blauth, Adam Hallowell, Eleni Fernald, Max MacClellan, and Aaron Shields, to name a few.

Making my heart stop every time, I was reminded of students who died too soon after they left us — Gibby Bryant, Forest Priestly, Trueman Moore, Elazar Allwine, Jordan Bakley, Ethan Linscott.

I thought about our former school counselor, Margaret Page, when I came to her tile, and I remembered what a kind and gentle woman she had been. 

Mr. Zweck's tile painting of his isolated seaside retirement house Down East reminded me of the years I spent as his student and principal. He never wanted any student knowing or using his first name, and clearly that held over until adulthood for me!  I loved Jerry Stone's tile of freedom.

I learned that lime green was the best background color. I learned that having color on the entire tile was considerably more attractive than having a white background. I learned that simple, larger scale designs were often the most pleasing. Roxie Lebenzon's ballet slippers were a testament to that. 

I saw the creativity of students like John Nappa and N. Weil (a rare student whose first name I could not remember), who’s in-progress images with the painting tool incorporated into the design revealed a depth of sophistication undetected in most. 

I saw things students cared about – campfires, families, music, hobbies, animals, gay rights. I saw fireworks over Camden Harbor.

I saw images that were harbingers of careers that eventually came. Professional musician Ben Lary had nothing but musical notes on his tile. I saw dreams on display. Cooper Russell didn't quite get into Yale, but he was close; he's at Stanford. 

I saw serious student collaboration at its finest — sets of two and three tiles that were intricately designed as one image, making a salient visual impact. It is amazing what they are capable of if they are invested in it.

I found my soul being filled by what I thought was going to be a community service project. Instead, under that guise, it turned into a powerful stroll down memory lane, and a fitting way to say goodbye to my old stomping grounds.

So glad I took the time to take those pictures!