Green thumb educator: Mary Bates retires from Jackson Street School in Northampton

  • Mary Bates, a first-grade teacher at Jackson Street School who was instrumental in starting the garden project, looks at a critter the group found in the compost with, Gigi Ostiguy, 7, left, and Steve Yunga Lala, 7, on June 6. Bates is retiring after 18 years of teaching. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mary Bates, a teacher at Jackson Street School who was instrumental in starting the school’s greenhouse and garden, works with her first-grade class looking for critters in the compost June 6. Bates is retiring after 18 years of teaching. The students, from left to right, are Josiah Dawson, 7; Gigi Ostiguy, 7; Steve Yunga Lala, 7; and Tess Eppsteiner, 6. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Published: 6/13/2018 8:54:40 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Mary Bates’ classroom is vibrant and colorful, like most first-grade classrooms are, with walls covered in student projects, artwork and posters.

However, above the alphabet that tops the blackboard, there is something unique. In big, bold letters, the poster reads, “Everyone is special. Everyone is different.”

This same celebration of diversity is what brought Bates to Jackson Street School 17 years ago.

Bates began her career as a lawyer, but quit to find her true passion in life, which was teaching, according to her husband John. While earning a master’s degree in education at Elms College in Chicopee, Bates student taught at Jackson Street. After spending one year working in another district, she returned to teach in Northampton.

“Jackson Street is an incredibly special place for teaching and learning,” Bates said. “I love the richness of diversity of the student and teacher population.”

Colleagues, friends and former students and their families came together Wednesday to celebrate her positive impact on Jackson Street as she heads into retirement. The celebration took place in a fitting location — the greenhouse and garden located behind the school that she brought to life nine years ago.

To honor Bates, the greenhouse was officially named the Mary Bates Greenhouse by the School Committee. Principal Gwen Agna presented Bates with a plaque that will be put up outside of the structure, as several students came up and hugged their former teacher.

Her idea for the school garden came from a desire to provide students with an outdoor learning environment that was “authentic, highly engaging and multi-sensory.”

The garden was made possible through multiple grants from the Northampton Education Foundation, a grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement for the materials and volunteer efforts from parents. The NEF grant paid for a consultant from School Sprouts to come and create a customized education program for the school that met the goals of the common core curriculum.

Agna on Wednesday also presented Bates with a memory book filled with notes from former students and pictures from over the years.

One note read, “Almost all I can remember from 1st grade is doing garden and poetry. I will miss you. Looking down at the shining light from above, it is beautiful. Ms. Bates and me.”

Another read, “You made me happy and safe the first few days of first grade and the rest. I remember the time I was stuck on a math problem and you helped me solve it. And then I gave you a great big hug.”

Leila Solis King, 8, and Ana Kumar, 8, both had Bates as a teacher last year. Solis said that her favorite thing about Ms. Bates’ class was learning more and more everyday. She also said, “She was really good at making kids friends with each other.”

Kumar said, “She was good at getting kids to listen and she was really nice. I’m happy I had her as my teacher, but I’m kind of sad that she’s retiring because my brothers won’t have her.”

On her retirement, Bates said that she feels full of gratitude.

“I am grateful for my years here and the chance to have been the part of the growth of so many wonderful children. There is an explosion of growth in first grade with so many moments of wonder.”

She also noted how honored she was to collaborate with the other teachers and staff members at Jackson Street and across the district, as well as working with an “inclusive, vibrant and active PTO.”

While she will no longer teach at Jackson Street, Bates will continue to be present at the school by coming once a week to work at the garden.

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