A good deed led to some bad feelings in Monmouth this week, and that’s a shame.
A group of 15 teens, led by Monmouth Academy social studies teacher Jocelyn Gray, probably didn’t expect to get scolded and told not to come back when they staged a cleanup day in a local cemetery, but that’s what happened.
Gray planned the activity as a hands-on history lesson for students, and a way to get them involved in the community. The group responded enthusiastically, and even raised some money to repair the toppled headstone of Seth Martin.
Students were instructed on how to work carefully in the cemetery so their rakes, grass clippers and other tools wouldn’t damage stones.
By their account, the Oct. 28 venture went well. Leaves were raked and removed, grass was clipped and fungi was gently brushed from the tops of stones. Teacher Dennis Price, who the newspaper account said was knowledgeable about monuments, began to work on putting the Martin headstone back together with the help of a student.
Energized by doing something good for someone else, and making plans to do more work, the students and teachers were caught totally off guard when the president of the Monmouth Cemetery Association, Hugh LeMaster, called Monmouth Academy Principal Rick Amero and insisted the project be stopped and the students not return to the cemetery. He was afraid, Amero told the Sun Journal, that the kids’ presence would be detrimental to the cemetery.
The students were learning a lesson, all right, but it had less to do with history and more to do with psychology and sociology.
Monmouth Center Cemetery is not an abandoned cemetery, like many of Maine’s old, neglected, weed-choked graveyards. It has an overseer, the Monmouth Cemetery Association, that is responsible for its care and upkeep.
Monmouth Cemetery Association has an active Facebook page, established in March of this year, which, among other things, lists cemetery rules and the names of association members and officers.
And while it appeared the cemetery was in need of some attention, it would have been prudent for the teacher to make a call to the association before undertaking the project.
Some communication upfront might have averted the harsh reaction by LeMaster, whose initial order that the group cease and desist left the students and teacher bewildered, demoralized and insulted.
“When (Gray) told us this, all of our mouths dropped,” seventh-grader Morgan Crocker told the Sun Journal. “We were just so mad and confused about why they would do this.”
We realize LeMaster may have felt blindsided when he read in the newspaper that a teacher and a group of students had taken it upon themselves to clean up a cemetery for which his organization is responsible.
Though he later, after meeting with a small group of students and Gray, amended his directive to say the students might be able to do some work there, as long as they are accompanied by a chaperon from the cemetery association, the damage was already done.
A little diplomacy on his part, and between the adults involved, would have served the lesson much better.
Something on the order of: “We were surprised to read about your project in the cemetery, and while we are grateful for your efforts, as the association that manages the cemetery, there are certain rules we need to follow. Perhaps we can work something out where you and the students can do some things to help us, but repairing stones may not be one of those things. Let’s figure it out. Meanwhile, we sincerely appreciate your efforts, and are impressed with the work these young people have done.”
And regarding the chaperon? Frankly, having someone from the association there to oversee the work is really a protection for the students from false accusations of damage.
Kudos to this group of engaged young people and their teacher for maintaining a positive attitude and wanting to go forward with the project.
While the students certainly learned a lesson from the experience, we doubt it’s the one they were expecting.
We just hope it’s not that no good deed goes unpunished.
We challenge all parties involved to work together to see that it isn’t, and to restore our belief that the goodness of human nature will prevail.
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