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Adult & Community Education of MV
Making Life-long Learning Accessible and Rewarding

by Amelia Smith

The mission of Adult and Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV) is to provide affordable and accessible educational opportunities for college credit, certification, training and enrichment to the Island community. For a long time, most adult education classes on the Vineyard were in the enrichment category, covering cooking, fitness, computer skills, auto maintenance, and much more. While those classes provide a welcome chance to get out of the house and learn new skills, they aren’t enough to provide the practical training and certifications Islanders needed.

ACE MV’s founder, Lynn Ditchfield, worked with off-island colleges and universities to provide some classes for college credit and to help make continuing education more accessible for Islanders. Now, a new generation of leaders is expanding on that mission to provide more practical and professional training tailored to the island community’s needs.

Sam Hart, ACE MV’s new Executive Director, moved back to the Vineyard in 2011. He says that his personal mission at ACE is: “To create permanent education and career pathways that ignite innovation in our community beginning at the High School so that people of all ages can thrive here and contribute to the sustainability of best community in the world.” He had never worked on the Island as an adult, and faced the challenges of establishing himself here first-hand. “This island hemorrhages its youth and has trouble attracting young professional families,” Sam says. “When you look at the shifting demographics of the aging population and that by 2030 (according to the Healthy Aging Task Force), one in three people on the Vineyard will be a senior, it’s pretty clear that we are going to have to do something to retain the youth that want to stay here, whether straight out of high school or those moving here.”

Sam returned to the Island a year after the death of his father, Stan Hart. “I decided to continue his legacy as a contributor to this amazing community,” he says. He initially taught Russian at ACE MV, then took over when Lynn retired in 2014. He is still in his 30s, as are two part-time staff members, Katy Decker, Operations Manager, and Sarah Monast, Director for Personal Enrichment. They’re very much in touch with the challenges of starting off on the Island. With the school system, Sam hopes to help build a bridge from the high school toward meaningful employment here.

“Continuing Ed is what high school was a couple of decades ago,” Katy says. “It’s what you need to be in the workforce.” ACE MV’s new offerings are intended to help increase the incomes of Islanders by providing training and certifications targeted to the Island’s existing industries. The practical barriers to adult learning – money, time, and transportation – are exacerbated on the island because of our geographic isolation and the imbalance between average income and cost of living for the year-round resident.

This year, the most ambitious of these programs is a Master’s in Education offered through Fitchburg State University. A survey of the Island’s public schools revealed that there were nearly forty teachers who needed or were interested in earning a M.Ed. to complete their licensing. “We felt that there would be enough critical mass to run the program,” Sam says. The program design is half online and half in class on the island, and is planned to begin this January. “Offering the program here on the island makes it an instant savings for teacher families, the school system and taxpayers,” Sam says. Working with the school system, ACE MV saves taxpayers thousands in reimbursements that the school system would have to pay their teachers for taking more expensive graduate credit off island.

“In almost every sector of our year-round economy there is some level of education and licensure required,” Sam says. ACE MV worked with the MV Builders Association to run a Home Energy Rater System (HERS) certificate class, which allows builders and architects to rate and assess the energy efficiency of a building as required by the “stretch energy code” mandated by voters in West Tisbury and Tisbury. This fall, they offered a 2A/C1 Hoisting License Prep course for the island’s contractors, bringing an expert from Boston to teach the class and arranging for transportation to the state’s exam site in Taunton. “If we didn’t hold this class here, our workforce would have to take at least 2, if not 3 days of work off to go over, take the class and then sit for the exam,” Sam says. “The cost and effort is too much for many of them.”

“We’re all facing the same issue of how do we afford to live here. It’s no secret why so many of our generation are leaving to start their lives somewhere else,” Katy says. “We want to address this gap so that our Island stays young and vibrant.”