Old school

On June 17, 2010, in Uncategorized, by admin

(Note: This blog post was written in June 2010… the Waterville Valley Elementary School is now a few weeks short of 2012 Graduation, and has enjoyed 41 students for the 2011-2012 academic year.  Once again, the school has been at the very top of standardized testing in the State of New Hampshire, for which the town is justifiably quite proud.)

The other night, I had the pleasure of attending the Waterville Valley Elementary School’s graduation ceremony for the eighth grade class.  I came away reminded once again of what a special community Waterville Valley is, and how much we have to be proud of as a community with our tiny elementary school.

Founded in the 1830s, the Waterville Valley school has a long and storied history.  In its earliest days, there were actually two school districts in town — not surprising given the large geographic distribution of citizens at the time — and students attended classes in private homes.  In 1885, the one-room schoolhouse (now the Osceola Library) was built, though there were many years during the early part of the 20th century when there were no students to grace its single large room.

This school year, 31 students from Kindergarten through Eighth Grade attended the Little Red Schoolhouse.  For several years running, our pupils have distinguished themselves with outstanding scores on standardized tests — every student in the school tested as Proficient or Proficient With Distinction in both Mathematics and Reading.  WVES is too small to report comparative numbers, but I think it’s safe to assume that we may well have the highest achieving primary school in the state.  By any measure, that’s very impressive.

Those are the basic facts of WVES, but neither the long history nor the unusually small class size today nor even the record of academic achievement really define the school.  What defines WVES is what defines the town of Waterville Valley itself — a strong sense of community and of shared responsibility.

Listening to this year’s graduates, each of whom gave a brief speech during the commencement ceremony, you realize how profoundly the involvement of their teachers — we’re blessed with a strong but loving principal, three excellent “home room” teachers, and a great array of professionals who rotate through each week for “specials” such as art and music — has marked them.  You get a sense for how important the school’s active PTA and parent volunteers have been in their experience.  You recognize how transformative the tradition of a “Monthly Meeting” (held in front of a parent audience the last Friday of each month, where each student gives a presentation or a performance) has been — these kids don’t seem to know they’re supposed to have stage fright. You also understand how the town’s mountain setting has provided a larger canvas for their learning and development, whether skiing at the resort or hiking and biking on the trails.

Listening to this year’s graduates, you get the sense that it hasn’t always been easy growing up in such a small school and such a small town.  You have to learn to get along, as you really can’t get away.  You also hear a kind of eloquence and a level of maturity you don’t generally associate with fourteen-year-olds.  The small classroom, and the small town, have been a crucible of sorts for their learning, and to a one, they’ve taken full advantage.

The Waterville Valley Foundation believes that the Waterville Valley Elementary School is both integral to the life of the town, and a healthy reflection of the things we as a community believe in.  In this spirit, we decided to recognize this year’s graduates with a small scholarship, to be granted at the time of their graduation from high school.  The grads — Andrew, Annie, Elizabeth, Ian, Max, Sergey, and Shea — will each receive $250 to spend on college books, or to assist them in getting started in life as they see fit.

Congratulations, kids — we’ll miss you, but if you’re like most kids who move on from WVES, you’ll remain an active part of our community for years to come. We look forward to that.


Together again

On June 13, 2010, in Uncategorized, by admin

I didn’t know Marc Paul Decoteau very well.  I knew him mostly as a smiling, irrepressibly upbeat force at the Waterville Valley Recreation Department, where he worked as a counselor, and seemed to be ever-present – working or not – laughing and encouraging the younger kids and goofing with the staff.  I knew him even better as the center of a mob of Big Kids who came back to Waterville Valley Elementary School for every performance or special event.  Marc Paul didn’t have to be there.  What high school senior or recent graduate can be bothered to go to an elementary/middle school performance when there isn’t even a younger sibling involved?  But Marc was always there.  It was just his way. He came home, and he supported the school and the younger kids because that was the kind of kid – the kind of man – he was.  In December of 2009, when WVES put on a spirited production of “The Polar Express”, Marc was there in his Army hoodie, looking very grown up and very comfortable, a new-found confidence upon him having completed his Army training, but still smiling and laughing and very present, a kind of dynamic force of positive and good.  Around that time, I heard Marc was bound for Afghanistan, and that news registered upon me with mild concern.  I also thought, at some level, this is exactly the kind of man we need there, a positive force, a good kid, one who can spread laughter rather than fear.

A few weeks later, I had just clicked into my bindings when a good friend slid over and said, “Did you hear?”  The rest of the weekend and the following week were a tumult of emotions for us all, however casually we knew Marc Paul.  At every level, it was sad and tragic and wrong that a good young man was taken from the world before his time.  And yet, as we all gathered solemnly at the side of Valley Road, or on the DiCenzo Bridge in Plymouth, or again days later when we pulled together for a pot luck dinner in Marc’s memory after Town Meeting, it seemed somehow right that Marc was bringing us together again.

It was actually this exact recognition – how good it felt to be together as a community, no matter how sad the circumstances – that was the genesis of the upcoming “Memories in the Mountains” community gathering.  As we met this winter, the Waterville Valley Foundation directors reflected on January’s events, some somber, but also some simple in the joy of being together (I don’t envy Town Moderator Bruce Saenger, who must bring us back to order with equal parts earnestness and good humor, after each vote at Town Meeting).  It is in this light that we conceived what we hope will be the first of many summer gatherings.  Yes, the proceeds of this year’s event are to benefits a memorial for Marc Paul Decoteau, quite fittingly to be placed at the Waterville Valley Elementary School… but I sincerely hope and believe it will be anything but a somber event.  I know Marc Paul would expect nothing less of us.

Marc Paul Decoteau was laid to rest at the Waterville Valley Cemetery on June 12th, 2010.


Waterville Valley Foundation’s “Memories in the Mountains” community gathering will be held on Saturday, July 24th at 6pm under the tent at the Waterville Valley Conference Center. It promises to be a great evening out with old friends and new, with a barbeque buffet dinner and dancing to the Wicked Smart Horn Band.  Tickets are $50 per person, and proceeds will benefit a planned memorial to local soldier Marc Paul Decoteau to be placed at the Waterville Valley Elementary School.

Tickets are available by mail (make your check payable to the Waterville Valley Foundation, PO Box 464, Waterville Valley, NH 03215), during select hours from the Waterville Valley Resort Concierge Desk in Town Square, and, starting in June, through the Waterville Valley Recreation Department at their summer home at the Waterville Valley Academy.  You may also reserve a table for ten, if you’d like to block out space for a group of friends.

For more information, drop us a note at info@watervillevalleyfoundation.org.


Getting the mail

On June 6, 2010, in Uncategorized, by admin

A week or two back, I made a quick pass through town mid-afternoon, with a stop at the Waterville Mall (AKA the Transfer Station – delivering, as opposed to picking up) and another at Town Square to check the mail. As I pulled through the drop-off loop, I noticed a friend’s car, conspicuous by its vanity plate, and quickly made a few cognitive connections.  Had Kali made the move from the season pass office to Town Square as the snow melted?  It seemed so.

First off, a note about share community services, such as transfer stations and post office boxes: as we grow more comfortable and insular in our suburban lives, I submit we give up a great deal as well.  When a large diesel truck shows up at the break of dawn to pick up and compress our trash, we lose touch both with the responsibility for the waste we produce and with those who produce waste around us.  When my family lived in Hingham on Boston’s South Shore, we lived with the odd paradox of high taxes and low services – which meant a regular visit to the transfer station, where one quite literally rubbed elbows with a broad spectrum of humanity, sorting bins of glass bottles (did you really serve that wine?  Hmmph…) and magazines into the appropriate receptacles.  It was ultimately democratic and very human, and even though it added a half hour or more to most weekends’ to-do list, it felt right in an odd way.  If you live in a private home in Waterville Valley (versus a condo complex, with refuse valet service and the occasional visiting bear checking the locks), you’re familiar with this routine.  If you’re like me, it’s both grounding and refreshing in ways that garbage generally isn’t.

The same can be said – but much more so – for the Waterville Post Office, where we full-timers all must eventually stop to collect items dispatched from beyond the Six Mile Bridge.  Ann and John know us all very well, and don’t even blanch when we forget our PO box keys or ask them to check – dearth of a yellow card notwithstanding – for an expected package.

My visits to Town Square for the mail inevitably end in a stop by the Coffee Emporium (spoiler alert… did you know the difference between the top-line, $1.75 a cup drip coffee, and everything below it?  The $2.00 menu of exotic names is all ground to order and French pressed while you wait, resulting in a simply stunning cup any time of day), the Adventure Center, or Jug Town – and as often as not results in bumping into a friend and an extended catch-up.

But back to my main point, as I really did have one.

This particular afternoon, I made the circuit of transfer station and PO, and chanced a stop at the Town Square offices to see if my hunch was correct.  It was, and I found Kali calmly presiding over the front desk. We hadn’t seen each other since the end of ski season, and she came around the desk for a big hug, and we caught up, unhurried, on all our shared news.  I congratulated her once again on her impending nuptials, and she filled me in on the details of the fall wedding – right here in the Valley, as befits a local kid who grew up in and around town, won races for the mountain, and has patched together a very respectable young adult life between slipping away for college and coming back to babysit for friends (which she still does, lovingly and uncompromisingly – I am sure the kids she sits for would happily go home with her at the drop of a ski pole), and lately as an employee of Booth Creek, where her organizational skills and quiet intelligence serve us all very well.

Eventually, our conversation inevitably worked its way around to our mutual – and incredibly dear – friend, Danette Colella.  Dr. Nettie also grew up skiing at Waterville Valley, was an instructor here back in The Day, and has since brought her young family here in all seasons, to ski and hike and mountain bike.  Nettie and her husband David are fixtures in both Kali’s and my life: kind, generous, and fun-loving friends who make you look forward to the weekend so you can see them again.  In February, Nettie was diagnosed with breast cancer, and Kali and I compared notes about her treatment and her state of mind – Nett is one of the strongest women you will ever meet, we both agreed.  It’s been a tough road, but Nettie has faced it like a champ, with the same determination she faces True Grit on an icy morning or a particularly tough rock garden on her mountain bike.  She rolls with it, leans into it, and does her very best – and she is winning.

Our tongues tired, Kali and I lapsed into silence agreeing on one thing:  we were proud of our friend and how she’d faced the fight of her life – and that we knew she was going to beat the disease.  In the mean time, Nettie has brought a new level of awareness of cancer to the broad circle of loved ones, friends, and patients.  If you’d like to support Dr. Nettie’s fight against cancer, you can do so at:


Search for “Nettie Colella” and make a donation in any amount you see fit.

See you around Town Square…