English teacher Barbara Shellito retires


Above is English teacher Barbara Shellito’s desk. Shellito, who will retire at the end of this school year, began teaching at WHS in 2005. “When the opportunity came up, I grabbed it. I was really glad to be here,” Shellito said.

Meg Trogolo

English teacher Barbara Shellito has guided hundreds of students through honors English 1 and freshman year at WHS as well as sophomores and seniors during her time here. However, someone else will fill that role come September. Shellito will retire at the end of this school year.

Shellito has taught at WHS since 2005. She decided to take the job because she had taught here as a long-term substitute and enjoyed working with students and teachers during that time.

“When the opportunity came up, I grabbed it. I was really glad to be here,” Shellito said.

Other than the transition from WHS’ old campus to the current buildings, not much has changed about Shellito’s job in her 11 years in the English department. Even the school’s 1:1 laptop program, introduced in 2012, has not influenced how she teaches her classes. However, there is one department-wide difference that she has noticed.

“The biggest [change] is the introduction of more independent reading time. That’s something the department as a whole has decided is worthwhile and at least most people try to incorporate that into the week with classes if we can,” Shellito said.

Shellito’s favorite class to teach is Honors English I.

“The [freshmen taking Honors English 1] are really eager to learn, energetic in general. Because they’re new to the school, they don’t have as many fixed ideas about what they can and can’t do,” Shellito said. “You see them come in as a blank slate. They’re just opening up to a lot of new things, and I like seeing that process. They grow, too. They literally grow taller, which is fun to see.”

In recent years, Shellito has been able to teach the same students as freshmen in honors English I and then as seniors in honors British literature. According to Shellito, this experience has been one of her favorite aspects of teaching at WHS.

“You get to see how much they’ve matured and what they’ve developed into as far as their talents and their contribution to the school. It’s really impressive with how much the freshmen grow up and become really important parts of the school as a whole,” Shellito said.

One of Shellito’s favorite stories from her years at WHS, in fact, comes from the honors British literature class. Students taking the class finish the year by writing short assignments about various aspects of themselves and presenting them to the class. One year, a student wrote about ski racing and brought in the suit she wore during competitions.

“[The student] brought in her ski suit for racing, which looked like Spiderman and had all that design on it. One of the other students was very excited to see the Spiderman suit and said ‘Oh, can I try that on?’” Shellito said. “He tried it on and came back, jumped up on a desk and did a Spiderman imitation. We laughed a long, long time.”

Shellito works with seniors outside of class as well. For the past three years, she and Academic Center teacher Barbara Wolfson have been running the senior independent project program, in which seniors complete projects on various cultural and scientific topics and present them at the end of the year. The two teachers split up the work evenly, scheduling goals and reading the project journals students keep.

According to Wolfson, Shellito’s qualities have helped the senior independent project program thrive at WHS.

“[Shellito is] extremely thoughtful, has a lot of integrity and cares deeply about the senior independent project program and the students that are participating in it,” Wolfson said. “I think her impact on the high school has been huge.”

While working at WHS, Shellito even had a moment in the national spotlight. Her family owns a wedding dress that has been passed down for generations, first worn in 1884. Shellito shares the story of how her mother-in-law tried on the dress for her 1941 wedding while listening to a radio announcer report on the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Shellito herself wore the dress at her wedding in the 1970s and when her niece wore it in 2011, the Today Show invited all the living women who had been married in the dress to share its story. Shellito, her niece and her sister-in-law appeared on the show on August 19, 2011, along with the dress itself.

“It was a beautiful dress. It’s amazing to think how the dress has lasted longer than some of the people who wore it. May last longer than me,” Shellito said. “It’s one of those things that seems so fragile, the silk, damask it was made of, but it’s lasted a long time.”

Although Shellito’s time at WHS is coming to an end, she has plans for the future. She looks forward to reading more and going to museums, as well as possibly tutoring at the Epiphany School, a middle school in Dorchester.