As a young woman growing up in a Salinas Valley agricultural family, Gevirtz Graduate School of Education graduate Tina McEnroe M.A. ’89 considered two career options — teacher or flight attendant.
“Thank God I chose teaching,” she says with a hearty laugh.
The choice turned out to be transformative. There is little in her life now that doesn’t involve education. Four days a week, she’s a reading specialist at Vista de Las Cruces School in Gaviota, having earned her multiple subject and reading specialist credentials, as well as a master’s degree in education, from UC Santa Barbara in 1989. She continued her association with UC Santa Barbara by becoming a member of the Dean’s Council at the university’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education.
Even as McEnroe racked up educational accolades and honors, she never lost sight of a long-held dream -- to own and run an old-fashioned, one-room wooden schoolhouse. Give her a goal, a challenge, a project, and she gets moving. Her passionate enthusiasm may seem relentless to some. But she did it.
Earlier this year, three years of painstaking work gave way to the grand re-opening of the Pleasant Valley School. The 1869 schoolhouse was only recently rotting away near a Highway 101 off ramp in Santa Maria. Now, it glows with bright-white paint on a gently rolling hillside at the historic 1,007-acre Rancho La Purisima that McEnroe and her husband of 15 years, Paul, call home. It was named a Santa Barbara County Building of Historical Merit.
True to McEnroe’s dream, Pleasant Valley is now once again a place for students to learn “reading, writing and arithmetic.”
“It is my dream that the pulse of this 1869 schoolhouse continue to live and thrive for many more years to come as children, student teachers from UCSB and Cal Poly, professors, community members one and all, visit, learn and are inspired by an era gone by,” she said at the ceremonial reopening.
To ensure that occurs, McEnroe, who earned her bachelor’s of science degree in education from USC, has created a “Living History Day” curriculum for elementary school students. Her goal is to allow today’s students, so enthralled by technology and a fast-paced world, to travel back in time to the late 1890s and early 1900s.
Now, on many Fridays, she sheds her stylish modern garb for authentic clothing of more than 100 years ago. Schoolchildren from throughout the area arrive by bus, change into period costume, and spend four hours living and learning in the ways of their ancestors. A 37-star flag snaps in the breeze on a pole next to the front door. Girls curtsey to the teacher and boys shake her hand when they enter the room. They bring lunches in metal pails, and use chalk to scratch out math and spelling words on slates.
“I’m very much a traditionalist,” she says, grinning broadly. “It’s extremely important to rouse minds to life and to learning. We all yearn to go back to a simpler time. This is a complex, hectic world we live in. To be taken back in time, it’s easier, simpler. It’s amazing; when children don period costumes, they become a part of that living history.”
In the classroom, the children respect one another and exhibit manners that might be lacking in a more-modern classroom. “There’s a sense of responsibility,” she explains. “It’s transformational. It’s magic, and these children accept that.” Pleasant Valley was meant to be, she asserts. “One of the reasons I was put on Earth was to make that difference,” she says earnestly.
It is not only the schoolchildren visiting Pleasant Valley whom the McEnroes hope to inspire. The couple recently pledged funds to establish the Tina Hansen McEnroe and Paul V. McEnroe Reading Clinic at the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education. The cause is close to her heart — she worked at the university’s reading clinic before it was shuttered due to budget cuts in the early 1990s. The financial gift will allow the university the seed funding to plan, organize and launch the new clinic in 2010.
The Gevirtz Graduate School of Education celebrated its 100th year during 2009.