Mike Interlandi began his Vermont teaching career by driving up five and half hours from the Pocono Mountains to Grand Isle, changing into his suit in a cornfield and heading to his interview. He got the job that day, and has been been teaching in the Burlington area for over three decades.
A longtime sports coach and health and physical education teacher, Interlandi, 66, is set to retire this June after 20 years at Burlington High School.
Interlandi grew up with a single mother in an inner-city neighborhood of Trenton, N.J.
While he aspired to be a forest ranger, looking back he believes good teachers got him interested in the profession.
After graduating from high school, Interlandi attended St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, where he earned degrees in juvenile psychology and education. While working on his second degree, he worked in a sawmill and rope factory to cover his expenses.
Interlandi joined Volunteers in Service to America, commonly known as VISTA, after completing college. Active in volunteer work, he was inspired in junior high when President John F. Kennedy told Americans in his inaugural speech: “Ask not what you country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Through the VISTA program, Interlandi worked for one year in East Grand Forks, N.D., working with the Chippewa and Sioux people as an employment counselor. He helped bridge cultural barriers and connect tribe members with job opportunities.
“In the process I was meeting [Vernon] Bellecourt, Russell Means, all the people from the [American Indian Movement] so I felt kind of excited,” Interlandi said. “I was interacting with people who were American history.”
His life after college included time as a cab driver, working on an oil rig in Scotland and serving as a canoe guide for a summer camp in the Pocono Mountains. Interlandi then settled into his first teaching job at Honesdale Catholic High School in Honesdale, Pa.
One year later, at age 27, he was off to the Lake Champlain Islands He has been a resident of South Hero since, where he served as a volunteer EMT for 10 years. He married his wife Janice, and had two kids: Jeb and Emma, now 37 and 33.
“At that time, the starting salary for a teacher was $6,000 a year,” Interlandi said. “So it was a labor of love.”
After cuts were made at Grand Isle, Interlandi moved to Edmunds Middle School for three years, where he coached track, girls basketball and boys soccer. He took his love of sports and outdoor activities with him when he headed to the high school. Interlandi started the indoor track and decathlon programs, coached freshman girls’ basketball, JV football, varsity soccer and varsity tennis.
Coaching has been one of his favorite experiences. For 49 years, Interlandi has always found a team to coach, whether it be track, little league baseball, wrestling, basketball or tennis. He has been involved in over a dozen different sports.
“It’s helping young people change from a kid to an adult,” Interlandi said. “The beauty of coaching is making a connection with young people and hopefully giving them some good advice to help them in that adolescence period.”
Anders Ode is a BHS senior and captain of the varsity boys tennis team. He describes Interlandi, who coached him for the past three years, as a leader who makes kids feel accountable to themselves and others.
“Interlandi always goes the extra step to make sure his team is set up for success,” Ode said. “He gives rides, advice, pointers and prizes. He lets players borrow racquets and other gear.”
Interlandi has taught every grade level and subjects as varied as social studies, science, health and physical education. He has even run clinics for physical education majors at the University of Vermont. Health has been his favorite to teach, due to the relevance for high schoolers, and kindergarten has been his favorite grade.
“Those kids are magic,” Interlandi said. “They make you smile. They’re so happy, enthused.”
In the physical education program at BHS, he has greatly enjoyed the lifelong activities unit, where students take part in biking, canoeing and snowshoeing. He helped write and secure a grant that brought snowshoes, cross-country skis, bicycles and many other supplies to the district.
Gayle Botelho, a physical education and health teacher, has been working for Interlandi for 15 years. She said he was her mentor when she started at the high school.
“He kind of took me under his wings and showed me the system as a new teacher,” Botelho said.
She appreciates his laugh and great sense of humor. She said that Interlandi would often leave notes on her desk with jokes or thank you messages, and did something special for every holiday.
“He is so caring, compassionate and thoughtful,” Botelho said. “He deeply cares about his students.”
His long list of accomplishments include serving as two-time president of the Vermont Association. of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, being named the 1994 Vermont Physical Ed. Teacher of the Year. lobbying for continuing of Title IX in Washington, D.C. He even worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1992 on a campaign to promote quality daily physical education.
Interlandi loves the international diversity at the high school. He enjoys hearing the different stories and dreams on native Vermonters, and non-Vermonters alike. Over the years he has noticed the interior and exterior of the campus become more colorful with quotes and art.
“Our school is more warm and friendly, when in those beginning years there was no atmosphere,” Interlandi said.
Heading into retirement, Interlandi plans to work on home improvement projects, go on road trips and spend some time surfing.