High school English teacher Brittany Ray '93 grew up in the tiny Down East town of Milbridge, a fishing community perched at the mouth of the Narraguagus River. Ray's father, Gary Ray '72, helped run the family business, a sardine cannery, and he made sure his daughter worked there, too, packing sardines beginning when she was 11. "He wanted me to know I needed to get out of Milbridge," Ray said. "He really questioned, 'Is teaching what you really want to do? And coming back [to Washington County]?' But I convinced him that that really was what I wanted."

Ray did get out of Milbridge. An English major, she spent her junior year in Dijon, France. At Colby she was valedictorian of her class. But by her sophomore year, Ray had decided she wanted to go back home to teach high school in Washington County. Weathering questions from skeptics ("Why would you want to teach if there were other options?") she returned to the county, teaching a year in Machias and then moving to Narraguagus High School in Harrington, where she was once a student. Since she first stepped to the front of a classroom, Ray has known it's where she belongs.

"I was hooked," she said, between classes at Narraguagus High recently. "I still am. I love what I do."

Colby historically was a college that turned out "teachers and preachers," and although the preachers' numbers have dwindled considerably over the past century, graduates continue to answer the other calling. For teachers like Ray, there is a missionary aspect to the vocation, a sense that there are productive lives hanging in the balance, students to be inspired, if not saved.

Ray got that inspiration from her own English teacher at Narraguagus High, Liverpool native Robbie Weller, who brought with her to the States a contagious love of literature. Weller set Ray down the path that led to Colby and a teaching career. Now the younger colleague tries to do the same for another generation of Down East teenagers. "I just felt I got a lot and I wanted to give back," she said. "Obviously the schools are poor, and people might think you can't get a good education. I feel that I was really well prepared by a community that might often get a bad rep."

    Students leave mobile classrooms at Narraguagus High School in Harrington, Maine. The trailers ease overcrowding at the school but present logistical problems for teachers and students, says teacher Brittany Ray.

What is Washington County's reputation? That it's naturally beautiful but economically depressed, relying on seasonal industries like lobstering, blueberries, lumber and pulpwood. The area is geographically isolated, beyond the reach of most tourists and their dollars. Many children here have never been anywhere else. "We do have an overwhelming number of impoverished households," Ray acknowledged. "That's something that we struggle with every day. For the most part [students] are eager to try new things. They just haven't had the exposure that another person might have had."

Poverty and isolation create obstacles similar to those faced by disadvantaged children in cities. The essay question for the statewide fourth grade assessment test for Maine was about a visit to a museum; many fourth graders in Milbridge probably have never been to one, Ray said. And Narraguagus High School was built for 175 students; it now houses just under 300. "Have you seen where I teach?" Ray said.



Small Triumphs: Alex Quigley '99 finds reason for both hope and despair in the Mississippi Delta
A Ray of Hope: Brittany Ray '93 inspires where she found her inspiration
An Education CEO: Robert Furek '65 brings accountability to Hartford public schools
Charting Success: James Verrilli '83 directs charter school turn-around in Newark
Perspectives on Reform: Colby experts discuss reform and the purpose of education

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