Tina Hansen McEnroe educates and inspires, old-fashioned style, in California

My earliest favorite teacher taught 4th grade at Washington School in Royal Oak, MI. Miss Harriet LaForge called me her “little chickadee.” I won spelling bees in her class.

Who are your faves?

I met an amazing teacher recently. Tina Hansen McEnroe has won umpteen teaching awards. And that’s not all. She and husband Paul (an engineer who was involved in inventing the bar code) founded a clinic at UC Santa Barbara to improve reading ability of 1st-6th graders.

In 2006, Tina and Paul moved a dilapidated 1869 one-room schoolhouse onto their Santa Ynez Valley ranch and restored it. Here Tina conducts “Living History Days,” teaching local students, gratis. Children dress in period costumes which Tina had made in all sizes for grades 1-8. They study using slate boards and original McGuffey readers. They recite standing up, 19th c. style. My sister, Anne, another splendid teacher (as many past Brookside students often attest), accompanied granddaughter Leighton to Tina’s schoolhouse. They were captivated.

“Teaching is my calling,” Tina says. “I love the honesty and innocence and promise of children.”

Over the years, Tina has taught hundreds of students. This year she had “one of the most exciting experiences” of her teaching career. A class was visiting her schoolhouse. The homeroom teacher advised Tina that Isabella (not her real name), a 7 year old, was diagnosed with Selective Mutism, an anxiety disorder that manifests as an inability to speak. It’s generally caused by early trauma. (Poet Maya Angelou was a Selective Mute for 5 years after being raped, at 8, by her mother’s boyfriend. She wrote about it in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Isabella’s divorced father had taken her to Mexico to live, without her mother, for a year.)

When Tina visited Isabella’s class to prep them for the schoolhouse visit, she conducted “Making the Manners.” Isabella curtsied as directed. The next day an old-fashioned spelling bee took place at the schoolhouse. Isabella stood first in line. Tina, who’d been pondering how to handle Isabella, knelt down in front of her. She whispered, “You can whisper/spell to me.” By this unconventional method, at the end of the spelling bee, Isabella had won. For the rest of the day, Isabella wore the 1850s half dollar medallion awarded to spelling bee winners. “She was beaming,” Tina says.

So moved by the response of this smart but silent little girl, Tina decided to go into her school and work with her. “Kids are intuitive,” Tina says. “They know when you love them and want to help.” After several sessions, Isabella was speaking to teachers and adults and, later, children.

“Everyone was shocked and I was thrilled.” Tina created 2 charts for Isabella in which to mark down every step in her progress. When Isabella has filled out both charts, Tina will make her the permanent recipient of the antique coin medal.

Tina will publish her work with Isabella in an educational journal.

The original schoolhouse took 3 days to build, with labor contributed by the community of Santa Maria in northern Santa Barbara County. The restoration, including finding original furnishings, took 1 and ½ years and was completed while Tina was still teaching special ed and reading almost full time. The schoolhouse is so authentic that the flag flown out front has 37 stars, representing the number of states in the union when the school opened in 1869. Concerned about the drought in California, Tina and Paul replaced the previous expansive front lawn with a small vineyard. The resulting wine will be bottled with a label featuring a drawing of the schoolhouse and the year 1869.

Visitors leaving the ranch drive under the message “Vaya con Dios” printed on the back of the post above the gates. This dedicated couple surely do.

(Thanks, Tina, for your great big heart. And thanks, Anne, for connecting me with Tina.)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email