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Article Published April 3, 2019
Paula Chabot: For the Love of Language
Margaret McNellis, Associate Editor

For 44 years, Paula Chabot taught at Daniel Hand High School in Madison; after she retired in 2014, she turned her attention toward giving back to her community in new ways.

“My life’s biography is: applied to one college, got in; applied to one grad school, got in; applied to one job, got it; then retired,” Paula says.

But there’s more to her almost 4 ½ decades as a Latin teacher and retirement than that. In addition to coaching the high school bowl team, Paula ran the Latin club.

“Latin club was my love,” she says.

The club participated in an annual banquet, each with a different theme. Some of the themes included: Pompeii 79 (in 1979), Campaign 88 BC, Classics at Woodstock, Jason and the Argonauts on Reality TV, and Harry Potter and the Mysterious Magistra.

There was a “skit written to the theme; decorations and centerpieces were themed,” Paula says.

She still has photos—and in some cases the actual decorations—from each banquet.

When Paula retired in 2014, she had a party and invited as many past Latin club members as she could find.

“Murals and window pictures were in my back shed,” she says. “I brought in as many as were still alive and decorated the whole parish hall with banquet décor.”

About 50 former students attending, going all the way back to 1972.

“It was just neat,” she says, “one kid wrote a Dr. Who skit called ‘Romulus, Remus, and Rhombus.’”

After honoring the memories of her years teaching at Hand, Paula turned her attention to staying active in retirement.

She had already joined Literacy Volunteers Valley Shore (LVVS) in 2012 as a board member after encountering another member of the board at a funeral.

“I had always thought the idea of tutoring someone in English would be a really good idea,” she says.

Paula served on the board for two or three years before the opportunity to train as a tutor herself arose, though she continues to serve on the board and is currently the fundraising chairman for a wine tasting event on Saturday, April 6.

“We have a small board,” she says, “and we’re looking for more people. People who feel literacy is a good cause and want to [work]—this is a working board.”

While board membership may not be right for everyone, LVVS also runs training sessions for tutors.

“After a couple of sessions, you get your student,” Paula says. “It really is neat to work with someone. What you have to keep doing is putting yourself in their place.

“Are you fluent in another language? English pronunciation is absolutely crazy,” she says. “Where do you put the accent?”

Paula says tutors must remember that it’s no mean feat to learn another language—especially English.

“English is a simple [language], but to advance [is] challenging,” she says. Tutees “have to be fearless.”

In addition to tutoring, LVVS provides its tutees with social and cultural connections at its international dinner, which usually takes place at the end of May.

“They bring food and we bring food,” Paula says. “Tutors ask students to write about literacy and how it’s helped them.”

Students write in their own words, and the responses are compiled into one document and shared at the dinner.

There’s also an ongoing book sale at the LVVS office, which is located at the back of Westbrook Public Library, 61 Goodspeed Drive, Westbrook. People can stop in during office hours and buy used books.

In the future, LVVS hopes to rekindle its workplace literacy program, but more tutors are needed first.

“We have about 25 students waiting and we’ve got a tutor class of about 20 right now,” Paula says.

When a new student signs up, they’re interviewed so LVVS can get a sense for the level of English they know. Then, when availability allows, tutors and tutees are matched.

“Can you beat free one-on-one tutoring? No,” Paula says. “The key for students here is they want to learn. Our tutors are just so excited to help them learn. Ultimately, if they keep at it long enough, our goal is to get them [to be] citizens.”

LVVS isn’t the only organization Paula has helped lead. She joined the Coastal Camera Club in the early 1990s, and a year after joining, she was president at the club.

“I’ve been on the board every year,” she says.

To keep fit, she started exercising at the Westbrook Senior Center.

“By doing that, not only did I make friends, but we started volunteering to help out with lunches,” she says. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people that way.”

From the Westbrook Senior Center, she was invited to join the board of the Estuary Council of Seniors.

“I’ve been on that board since November,” Paula says. “And of course I volunteer for Scranton Library.”

Not only was she the event photographer for a recent concert held to benefit the E.C. Scranton Memorial Library, but she also volunteers during book sales.

“When they put out a call for volunteers, I try to go,” she says.

Paula also volunteers at the Guilford Arts Center during its summer Expo.

She says, “I can sit there for a few hours and take tickets.”

Paula is also part of the homeowners’ alliance in the mobile home park she calls home.

She helped with efforts to handle cleanup after a hurricane knocked trees down all over the park.

When Paula isn’t volunteering, she likes to travel. She went to New Zealand as part of a Rhodes Scholar Month. That trip is tied for her favorite with a journey to the Galapagos Islands.

“Previously all my travel was the Roman Empire because it was summer and I almost always traveled with the Virgilian Society,” she says.

The only country she hasn’t been to that was once part of the Roman Empire is Libya, because of travel warnings.

“They have some fantastic Roman ruins,” she says.

There are still more places in Italy Paula wants to see, and soon, she’s traveling to the island of Crete.

“If I’m at home, I’m more of a sit-and-read person,” Paula says. “I have so many books I’m doomed. Too many books, too little time. All my T-shirts should say this.”

Paula also enjoys connecting with past students and Latin club members on Facebook.

“If kids chose to hang in there, [we developed a] closer relationship; they probably went to Rome with me,” she says.

“I love the ancient world,” she says. “Latin is not just a language. It’s a visual language and that’s how I learn, and you’ve got history, and mythology, and art, and English is a part of it because of the derivatives and Latin phrases.”

For example, March 15, the Ides of March, is the date on which Brutus killed Julius Caesar with a knife.

“On March 15, I got a picture of a Caesar dressing bottle with a knife in it,” she says. “That’s one of the joys of Latin.”

 

To recommend a person of the week in Madison or Killingworth, email m.mcnellis@shorepublishing.com.

 

The Literacy Volunteers Valley Shore Wine Tasting takes place on Saturday, April 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Lyme Art Association, 90 Lyme Street, Old Lyme. Tickets cost $30 in advance and $35 at the door. Proceeds benefit Literacy Volunteers Valley Shore. For more information, call 860-399-0280 or visit lvvs.org.