Education

A quarter century of helping Island students to grow: Educational Foundation reaches a milestone

For Nicholas Mamisashvili, it was the opportunity of his young life — a trip abroad the summer between his sophomore and junior years.

Nicholas made the journey with a group of other Shelter Island Highs School students to Spain, Morocco and Gibraltar.

“It was great,” Nicholas said, who is entering his senior year this month. “Fun and educational. We were in Spain, but then went from that western culture to Morocco, which was really different, and then to Gibraltar. That was like being in England.”

Interested in computer science, Nicholas also had the opportunity to spend time at a “computer  camp” run by ID Tech at New York University. “It really helped me grow,” Nicholas said.

Mae Brigham, 12, who is in love with reading and creative writing, achieved a goal by having a story, “The Music of the Wind,” published in the Reporter as well as in “Cricket,” a children’s magazine. In a contest, her work was honored with an award.

Budding author Mae Brigham, enjoying one of her favorite pastimes. (Courtesy photo)

She learned to hone, polish and organize her work through a program at the Shelter Island Library, “2Rs4Fun,” which matches young students with adult mentors who help guide them in the writing process. The program, founded by retired teacher Mary Dwyer, culminates in the publication of a journal filled with the students’ writing and artwork.

Mae’s mentor was Roger McKeon. “He helped me a lot, and really made me laugh,” Mae said. “It was a great experience.”

Her younger sister Lily, another budding writer, has also been part of the 2Rs4Fun program.

Nicholas’ adventures and educational opportunities, and Mae’s and Lilly’s lessons in writing that resulted in recognition, didn’t cost them, or their families, the school, or the taxpayers anything.

Their experiences and countless other trips, excursions and educational programs have been sponsored and paid for by the Shelter Island Educational Foundation, now celebrating its 25th year of good works for young people.

The charitable Foundation has become one of the critical components of the education of youth of Shelter Island. Like many long-standing institutions, the Foundation was created to fill a need, said Lydia Axelrod, who was reached recently at her home in Pittsburgh, Penn. 

Ms. Axelrod, now retired, was superintendent of schools on Shelter Island from 1992 to 1999.

But halfway through her tenure, she saw that students required more than just classroom and homework studies, and needed more exposure to cultural and educational opportunities in the wider world for them to grow as individuals.

The Island, Ms. Axelrod saw, was limited by geography to access that wider world. “Even though many of the kids were born in New York state, many had never even been to New York City,” she said, that world mecca of culture, so close by, but for some, very far away.

Travel and exposure to the arts is a way to broaden emotional and educational horizons is more than a perk for students. It is a necessity. But Ms. Axelrod was wary of asking the Board of Education for funds to transport and house students for trips to the city and beyond.

“Boards of Ed don’t like to go to the community to ask for a tax rise,” she said.

However, she was working from experience, and had a plan. Before she became superintendent of Shelter Island Schools, she held the same position in a small town in Pennsylvania, “an underprivileged town,” as she described it.

She and her husband Burt and members of the faculty came up with the idea of a nonprofit to fund trips for the kids. They formed a 501c3 organization, secured a grant from the Carnegie Foundation and began soliciting donations. The new organization took off, as did the one Shelter Island, where the model was repeated in 1995.

Since then, over the past 25 years, the Foundation has provided programs as varied as sailing trips on schooners; excursions to Ground Zero; museum trips, including to the Holocaust and Tenement museums; trips abroad for language immersion experiences; a dress rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera; Broadway shows with a pre-performance acting workshops; athletic and science camps, and much more.

In a new fundraising letter, Janine Mahoney, the president of the Foundation, notes that the COVID-19 coronavirus has changed everything, but the organization has been nimble enough to provide its service virtually for the students of Shelter Island, writing: “The Shelter Island Educational Foundation has found a need to redirect our efforts… Our present students have been temporarily grounded. We are refocusing towards virtual camps, classes, workshops and hands-on box deliveries to meet the needs of our students as they shelter in place. Of course, our hope is to return to supporting adventurous trips as soon as our children are able.”

For those who wish to contribute, go to ShelterIslandEdFoundation.org, for information on programs and how to make a tax-deductible donation.

Ms. Axelrod, when told of plans for an in-person party to be held at the Ram’s Head Inn sometime in the future, said, “I can’t wait to see old friends and be on the Island once again.”