WINTHROP — Meg Cook and Mary Dyer, two teachers retiring from Winthrop High School this spring, have many things in common.

Both have more than 40 years of teaching experience, and between the two, they’ve taught at Winthrop High School for a total of 77 years. Both have gotten their students involved in extracurricular activities to benefit the sick and needy.

Both are “consummate professionals,” said Virginia Geyer, current chairwoman of the Winthrop School Board, who used to teach physical education at the high school.

“The students’ success is at the top of their goal lists — whatever it takes for their students to be successful,” she said.

And both teach languages, albeit languages that not everyone would think of as conventional.

In Cook’s case, that language is Latin, now spoken by just a handful of people outside Vatican City.

In Dyer’s case, that language isn’t even a language. As a studio art teacher, Dyer said, “I teach art as a language and as a means to learn every one of the other disciplines. I’m not a traditional art teacher, by any means.”

On the eves of their retirements, both Cook and Dyer emphasized that it’s been a good ride.

Cook, who is 65, began teaching Latin at Winthrop High School in 1973. For a supposedly dead language, it has brought considerable life to the school’s curriculum.

When Cook started, about 4 percent of Winthrop students took Latin. Over the years, that number steadily rose and now hovers around 40 percent. Many of her students (65 this year) are also involved in Latin Club, which is the school’s largest student organization.

“Anyone can learn it,” Cook said of Latin. “It’s not just for the smart kids going to Harvard.”

Cook also has taught French and taken students to Latin conventions across the state and country. For those students who could cover the expenses, she has led summer trips to Italy and other European countries. Stretched across one wall of her classroom are more than 100 trophies her students have brought back from competitions.

Just as Dyer teaches art as something more than a skill, Cook explained that she has always seen her Latin classes as a way for students “to learn how to learn.”

Her classes have never been easy, she said, but her students have left them with a better understanding of a number of things: the foundations of English and other modern languages, the beginnings of Western culture, the mythology that underlies so many blockbuster movies.

On a recent Thursday morning, both Cook and her freshmen students were wearing togas. The time had come for the students to deliver short presentations about one Roman god or goddess, in the character of the deity.

One student described Volcanus, the god of fire, and at the end presented a bag of Spicy Nacho Doritos — symbolizing fire — for the banquet that would follow.

Another student dressed as Mercury, with little wings over his ears. “He’s the messenger of the gods,” the student told his classmates. “He, like, brings messages and stuff.”

A third was Bacchus, the god of wine, who presented several bottles of sparkling cider for the banquet.

With her retirement near, Cook said she regrets that she won’t be able to see her freshman, sophomore and junior students from this year stick with the Latin program and graduate.

But she’s proud of several things. One is that, beyond the many students she’s seen graduate over the years, two of her pupils have gone on to become Latin teachers. One of them is her daughter, Sarah Moore, who teaches at Cony High School in Augusta.

“That’s my legacy,” she said. “I’ve created two teachers.”

She’s also happy the Winthrop School Board will continue the Latin program after her retirement and is looking for a successor. The district also has proposed starting a Spanish program next year.

“She leaves big shoes to fill,” said Geyer, chairwoman of the school board.

Dyer, who is 70, also has had an effect on her students and on the school.

It was only late in her own childhood that she discovered an interest in the fine arts, according to Dyer, but she worked hard and after high school went to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design.

She now coaches any of her students who are interested in art or design school on how to create a portfolio and best show off their work. She’s not truly retiring, as she will soon open a studio in Winthrop and plans to make her professional coaching services available to students around the area.

“One of the things I’ve been most successful at is, I’ve been able to get my students into any art school they want,” she said.

According to Geyer, that focus on her students meant Dyer “seldom left the building before 9, 10 p.m.”

That dedication was evident on a recent morning. Toward the end of an interview, her students started to trickle in for the class that was about to start. She paused at one point to remind them to start working on the paintings due at the end of class.

But Dyer does not focus exclusively on proficiency. Too often, she said, fine art gets pigeonholed as a subject for those with the talent to create it.

To that end, Dyer has always pushed her students, whatever their academic focus, knowing they were capable of success. She has worked with teachers of other subjects — French, science — to incorporate art into their curricula. She has also helped start a Winthrop-wide student art show.

“Everyone has this language. You draw much earlier than you speak,” she said. “I have a reputation for being quote-unquote ‘hard,’ but my love and passion is to get students to do things they don’t think they can do.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker


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