Life-changing experience for Lowell Educator on Parris Island

By: Cecelia Calabrese – January, 2012

Want a crash course in decision making, leadership and teamwork skills? Tell it to the Marines! That is what Mary Payne of Dracut, Massachusetts did when she spent a week at the Marine Corps training facility at Parris Island.

Mary is the College Relations Counselor at Lowell High School. She was invited to attend the Educator’s workshop held by the Marines at Parris Island. When the Lowell School Superintendent’s office granted her permission to participate, she jumped at the opportunity.

As a College Relations Counselor Mary typically visits many college campuses and tours university and college facilities. She said that making such visits provides her with a different perspective of what each school has to offer Lowell students. This, in turn, gives her valuable experience is counseling students through the college selection and application process. When Mary was invited to Parris Island, she was anticipating that the Marines would do likewise, offering tours of the facilities, attending meetings and workshops so that she could get a feel for what Marine life is all about.

It didn’t take long for Mary to discover that the Parris Island experience was much more than what she had been expecting. “Going to Parris Island was a life changing experience”. Mary said.

On the first morning they were required to be at breakfast at 5:00am and board the bus to Parris Island at 5:45am. When they arrived at the Island the bus door opened and a drill sergeant appeared and began “yelling” at the educators to get off the bus and stand in line on the Yellow Footprints. “I thought they were only kidding”. Mary explains. She discovered they were not!

The group was instructed that they would be going through a “mini” version of the recruit training. For the next four days, the educators were treated like “real” Marine recruits going through Marine training. They had to walk in formation wherever they went on base. Whether they were going to lunch or to a training site they were to be in formation. They were required to answer their drill sergeant with “yes, sir”; “no, sir”; etc.

The highlight of Mary’s experience was having lunch with a Lowell High School graduate of the Class of 2011, Elia Bloise. Bloise enlisted in the Marine’s following high school and was in her fourth week of training. Mary was able to sit with Bloise and chat with her about her experience. “It was a very emotional meeting” Mary explained.

When Mary asked Bloise what the most difficult part of her whole experience was for her, she replied “I miss my mom”. Mary got permission to take a picture of Bloise, and sent it to Bloise’s mom in Lowell, who called Mary ecstatically immediately upon receiving the photo.

Mary Payne highly recommends this program at Parris Island to other educators. “I have always admired people who are in the military but I have a renewed appreciation and respect for what the men and women must endure in basic training to be successful. This experience is one I will never forget”. Mary concludes. OOH-RAH, Mary!

Cecilia Calabrese was recently sworn in as a member of the Agawam City Council. She is a lawyer and small business owner. you can email her at