Group Leader, MA
The (recently) retired health teacher from New Bedford, Massachusetts was first introduced to EF in 1992 as a chaperone on her colleague’s tour—an experience that just so happened to be her first time traveling abroad. The rest was history, as she’s now led over 15 tours with EF. On the trip to Portugal, where her family has roots, something clicked. “I [knew] I wanted to do this with students,” she explains. “I wanted to get them out of their comfort zones. I wanted them to become more well-rounded, because they didn’t have this luxury at home. It just took off and went from there.”
Mary-Ellen, who retired in 2019, didn’t grow up far from New Bedford, the small New England city where she taught for 35 years. She has seen the community change over time, weathering economic hardships as many of the families she taught moved to more affluent suburbs. New Bedford has become a city of predominately immigrant families, and for most, English is their second language. For many of her students, Mary-Ellen was far more than just a teacher: She was often a ride home, a mentor, a shoulder to lean on, a safe space, and most of all, someone to trust. All of these qualities were only amplified by the EF tours she led year after year at her high school.
The school itself is Title 1, and has a reputation Mary-Ellen is keen on altering through her successful travel program.
“These kids don’t have fortunate circumstances. They’re not going away with their parents on fancy trips. They don’t have that luxury, and many of them haven’t even left New England. Some barely get out of New Bedford. These travel experiences provide them with new challenges. They build confidence. And they experience something unfamiliar.” Her passion for travel is only exceeded by her passion for her students’ personal growth. Says Mary-Ellen, “Traveling allows the individual to grow. That growth means that they become a better person, more well-rounded, more knowledgeable of how the world operates, and more aware of different cultures.” She continues, “Travel affords them the ability to meet people of different cultures with diverse traditions and lifestyles.” That deeper understanding is exactly why Mary-Ellen is able to connect so genuinely with her students. She understands the community where they’ve grown up, because she’s a part of it. And she recognizes and honors the financial implications travel can have, opting not to shy away from this topic with her kids. Over the years, she’s helped students count tips from jobs at local pizza shops, she’s given guidance on how her high-schoolers can set up their own bank accounts, and most recently, she rescheduled a tour for a group of graduated seniors who would have missed out. Above all, Mary-Ellen makes sure that her students know they are never alone in making their travel experiences happen. At her core, she is the type of educator whose lessons reach far beyond her classroom, whose commitment is unwavering, and whose influence lasts a lifetime.
Mary-Ellen knows what can happen after an EF tour, because she’s seen the life-changing effects
of one singular travel experience for so many of her students firsthand. She has built a reputation not only for her school, but for her students, that travel is for everyone. “[Travel] is so much more educational than a high school or college class. It’s like a mini, condensed crash course in discovering how the rest of the world lives. To see the growth that takes place in a relatively short amount of time is amazing.”