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Students discuss MaryAnna Waldrop’s magical approach to teaching

By Staff | Sep 8, 2011

MaryAnna Waldrop offers assurance to eighth-graders Gina Marzo (left) and Annika Maulit, 2011 May Day mistresses of ceremony at Sacred Hearts School.

LAHAINA — “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” That is how Kieran Clark, a current eighth-grader at Sacred Hearts School, describes his teacher, MaryAnna Waldrop.

Though only one word, it is a very fitting description of Waldrop. Those who have come into contact with her teaching style tend to describe very Mary Poppins-like qualities. She is tough, challenging every one of her students to exceed their wildest expectations, but she is also innovative, nontraditional, fun and little bit magical. All who have ever witnessed her in action agree that Waldrop’s unique classroom environment sets it apart from the rest.

Nikole Nelson, a former Sacred Hearts teacher who is now a designer living in New York City, explained, “In Mrs. Waldrop’s classroom, there was always a sense of freedom — freedom to think, evolve, create, challenge. It was a room filled with achievable greatness.”

Before teaching, Waldrop sailed across the world for seven years on a 30-foot sloop, “Finesse,” an experience that greatly impacted the teacher she would later become. She explained, “I know without a doubt, I would not enjoy teaching and be content with teaching adolescents if I had not spent years out at sea. Harbors for which we are bound we do not reach, but the harbor reached is where we were meant to be. We suffer gales and storms — deadlines, report cards — only to witness the moonlight dancing on the sea: a student ‘getting it.’ The moods of my students are the moods of the sea; give them time and they will change.”

Last year, in fact, sailing became a big part of the curriculum she designed with her class. For the month of November, they spent one day every week learning to sail at Lahaina Yacht Club. For their eighth grade retreat, they traveled to the Big Island to learn and work aboard the sailing canoe Makali’i, sister ship to Hokule’a.

Another unconventional Waldrop practice that occurs this time of year is that of home visits. Early each school year, she seeks out each of her students’ homes and conducts a meeting there.

Recent Facebook statuses reveal the nerves of her kids as they await her arrival: “OMG! Waldrop is coming today!” “Will she want to see my room?” “Is she really coming?!”

It is an opportunity for the students and their parents to talk about expectations, fears, hopes and goals for finishing out their Sacred Hearts experience.

Waldrop explained the background of the home visits: “My first teaching job was in the barrio of South El Monte in California. I couldn’t understand why some students were not doing their homework, so I made arrangements to go to their homes to talk to their parents to find out. What a lesson I received! From that moment on, I knew that was the best way to care for my students and show their parents I was serious about their child’s education. This year marks my 23rd year of Home Visits.”

During the second quarter of the year, Waldrop gives her students the opportunity to create a “Passion Project.” The project is independent, optional and individual, based on the student’s passion.

“Throughout my career, I have learned that standing in front of a classroom, disseminating information to the students as if I am the ‘know all, be all,’ is baloney sauce,” she said.

“Too often, education can extinguish the light in a child… Be their mentor, their ‘companion on the journey,’ and repeatedly, I have witnessed that is when the real learning takes place.”

If students choose to pursue Passion Projects, they create their own curriculum and spend their time in the class teaching themselves the said curriculum. The only guideline is that each project must, in some way, enrich the student in writing, reading, vocabulary and religion. Topics have ranged from the Fibonacci series to photography to an internship with a professional pastry chef.

Samantha Monge, a graduate of Sacred Hearts in 2006 who is currently a sophomore at Yale, said, “I remember the Passion Project and her ability to make her students feel like they were creating something worthwhile and discovering amazing concepts every day. I think that is what makes her most unique.”

As this school year is just beginning, Waldrop’s fresh, new eighth-graders have much to look forward to. So far, their plans for the year are to learn how to sail, cook, dance and speak Spanish. They also will have frequent tea time.

As for MaryAnna, she is plenty excited herself. Teaching, she said, is, “Kind of like sailing a boat — one plans and plans; is as prepared as is humanly possible having read, planned, researched and planned some more. And then I look into my students’ eyes as they enter the door to Room 8, and I am willing to let it all go to let the students teach me if the need be. Maybe that’s why I still love teaching. As the saying goes, ‘I can’t control the wind, but I can adjust the sails.’ “

Nikole Nelson perhaps described the essence of MaryAnna Waldrop best.

“Mrs. Waldrop is a rare and precious soul who has the ability to balance her professional intentions of knowledge and empowerment with deep compassion for real-life situations. She goes beyond the surface and uncovers the unique approach to reaching each and every student — from inside the soul to the physical realm.”

The magic of Mrs. Waldrop is indeed a bit like Mary Poppins… “practically perfect in every way.”