Passing the torch forward for a children’s program

Once a teacher, always a teacher.

That’s why Mary Ita Dwyer, after 26 years of teaching in East Williston, found she had to keep going when she retired on Shelter Island.

But after 12 years at the helm of “2Rs4Fun,” the reading and writing program for third- and fourth-graders, she’s passing the leadership role to former Island elementary school teacher Frank Emmett.

Asking Mr. Emmett to take over the group was an easy decision, Ms. Dwyer noted, because she knows he embraces her vision of what the program should be.

But it was health that motivated her decision to finally take a step back.

A fall from a ladder that resulted in five broken ribs — one of which pierced a lung — forced her decision that the 13th year of the program needed new leadership.

“He’s wonderful,” Ms. Dwyer said of her successor. His philosophy, like hers, is about setting children free to write by giving them the space, one-on-one mentorship and allowing them to spin their tales without inhibitions.

“It’s a confidence builder,” Mr. Emmett said about the program. “I’m not going to change a thing.”

The one thing that has had to change is that the pandemic delayed the start of the program until spring, he said. He hopes by then COVID-19 will be controlled enough to bring children together for the popular program.

Even though in-person classes are underway in the Shelter Island School District, caution is dictating the decision to hold off in starting this extra-curricular activity, which has long had support from the Shelter Island Educational Foundation, the Shelter Island Library and school’s faculty.

In helping to fund the program, a testimonial from the foundation credited its success to mentoring by local professionals who shared their lifelong love for literature and writing.

Among the reasons Ms. Dwyer tapped Mr. Emmett to lead the program was the way in which he stressed reading by spending a little time at the end of each weekly session reading to the participants.

Mentor and former teacher Frank Emmett working with a budding writer. (Credit: Julie Lane photo)

Having the fall semester off, he’ll be doing what he calls his “homework,” reviewing Ms. Dwyer’s files, confirming volunteer mentors and preparing for the spring.

As for Ms. Dwyer, she said she won’t be idle. Of her six children and 13 grandchildren, she said, “They don’t really keep me busy. They keep me in touch.”

Third grader Kenzie Montoya with writing mentor Christine Pelletier at the 2Rs4Fun program at the library. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi photo)