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Welcome to Cliftondale – Meet Miss Marleah Elizabeth Graves

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By Janice K. Jarosz


  (Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles about the upcoming “Open House” event set for the first weekend in May at the old Cliftondale School, which is now known as The MEG, at 54-48 Essex St. in Saugus.)


As if trying to save the Cliftondale School from the wrecking ball was not enough of a feat, I also learned along the way that the school was named after a favorite teacher who I had never heard of – coming from the Oaklandvale area, the “other side of town.”

Once I began going through old newspaper clippings and town reports, I learned that Miss Graves was a true “legend in her own time,” and I realized the best way to honor her was to meet those who knew her firsthand.

The following interviews and statements were made by fellow teachers, school officials, PTO parents and students who truly knew and loved her.


National Teacher of the Year

Marleah made a lasting impression on the hearts of all those who came to know her, including the vast number of elementary students who came to her classroom, in her over 45 years of teaching.

Being acclaimed as the Elementary School National Teacher of the Year in 1970 made no inroads on the unassuming ways, which were the hallmark of this gracious woman. I was witness to this trait when as a Language Arts Coordinator I visited her late in her career to display to her the new program which we were adopting system wide in Saugus.

There was hesitation in her eyes, a moment of reflection, as she sought words to address me – that – “with two years to go before retirement could I make an exception and let her continue the program she was comfortable with and successful with,” a request, short of being a plea, offered with no claim of privilege or seeking favor, coming across as “John, would it make sense if…?”

It made sense – a lasting memory of two teachers who respected one another and loved their trades.—John Burns, October 2006


A fellow teacher writes

It was quite often the case that each classroom held approximately 40-46 students during my tenure in the 1930’s and 40’s. I was the first-grade teacher and Marleah Graves was not only my colleague, but my best friend as well. We taught on the first floor with our classrooms next to one another and Marleah was the second-grade teacher. If we were assigned a class of less than 40 students, we were both in heaven that year!

As a first-grade teacher, I remember my children as disciplined, well-behaved, and respectful, not only of me, but of their parents and fellow students as well. For the most part, students behaved and listened to the teacher but if there was a problem with a student, which was rare, the parents would side with the teacher and exact their own discipline at home.

During my years in college, we were taught that the eyes of a child were not developed fully enough to learn how to read until they reached the age of seven. We did not know about autism at that time, and I do not recall anyone getting sick over peanut butter. Few children had asthma and very few of my students required any kind of medication.

As teachers, we did not assign homework to our students until the fourth grade. We believed that youngsters needed fresh air and exercise as much as they needed lessons in the Three R’s.

In my teaching career, children were able to attend neighborhood schools where children knew their classmates and neighbors. Most children today do not have that advantage. It must be simply awful to put a young child on a bus and send him or her off to a school in another section of town. It is no wonder why children are so stressed out in today’s society.

I have been very fortunate to have lived a long life and to be able to see how well so many of my students turned out. Some of the ones I never expected to make it into the world became the most successful ones of all – one just never knows the real potential of a young student!

Another advantage to living a long life has been the opportunity to meet many of my former students in our adult years. It is such a joy to talk to them about their elementary school days and the wonderful times we shared together at Cliftondale School.—Miss Constance Putnam, October 2006


A letter from a former student

To the Members of the MEG Foundation:

Marleah Graves was a great help to me and the rest of my class in the second grade. Our class had a difficult first grade because it was the year that Miss Putnam retired, and we had no fewer than a dozen different teachers so that we made very little progress and had next to no continuity.

So, it was up to Miss Graves to teach us both the first and second grade material when we arrived in her classroom. She did an excellent job and really bailed out our sinking boat. We were and still are very much indebted to her.

She was very dedicated and took a keen interest in our well-being – showing special slide shows and other activities to enhance our interest and enthusiasm.

It is very fitting that the Cliftondale School is being preserved and dedicated in her memory as she taught so faithfully and well for many, many years.—Charlie Gibbons, October 2011

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