Uniting Students from Unbridged Islands

by | Sep 24, 2022 | News

On a rainy day in September, the sound of laughter, cheers, and music coming from the Town Hall could be heard walking up from the mostly quiet harbor on Isle au Haut. The noise of 26 students (six times as many as there are usually on island), meant only one thing, the Inter-Island Event (IIE) was underway. The IIE brings together students, teachers, and parents from Cliff Island, Isle au Haut, Islesford, Great Cranberry Island, Frenchboro, and Monhegan, and heavy rain was not dampening anyone’s spirits.

During breaks between sessions, younger kids blew bubbles, built structures with Legos, and played tag. The middle schoolers grouped together outside talking and laughing with each other.  

While this seems like a normal day in most places, for kids and their families living on unbridged islands this is a big event. The IIE is one of the few times each year students from island schools get to see friends their own age. Because each of the schools has only a handful of students enrolled in grades K-8, kids ranging from 5 to 13 learn side by side in one-room schoolhouses.   

“IIE is vital to the life of island schools,” says Douglas Cornman, the Mission’s Director of Island Outreach. “Not only does it kick off a new school year, but it also gives kids a chance to socialize with their peers. It’s not uncommon for an island kid to be the only kid their age, especially during the Fall, Winter, and Spring when summer families are off island. It’s also great to watch the entire island community come together to support the event. It really takes the entire island to pull it off. I am so grateful to each island for welcoming me to join the fun. IIE takes a lot of planning, coordination, and energy, but the fun outweighs all the effort.” 

The first IIE happened in 1988. Its primary goal was to bring the students and teachers from small remote and isolated islands together. Students, teachers, parents, and IIE volunteers have been gathering annually since and after a two-year absence because of COVID, everyone was happy to be together again.  

Ocean, a 7th grader from Isle au Haut, says that the IIE gives them “a chance to see my friends.” Gianna and Brownel, also both island middle schoolers, agreed. During a lively discussion, the trio talked about the many events that they attended in the past and wondered which students would be in their book group which was meeting soon.  

It could have been any other Tuesday, but for the families and teachers at IIE, the event holds special meaning. Lindsay, a teacher from Islesford, explained that “for kids this is a time where they have enough friends to play games with which makes it exciting for them. It also steels us against the long winter to come.” 

Inter-Island Event Activities

During the three-day event, there is a mix of fun and games and educational opportunities as well. Wednesday started with a whole island party and potluck, which shut down the island’s road so everyone could dance in the street. On Thursday morning, kids joined Planet Pan, a steel drum band from Blue Hill, and learned how to play notes and chords. They met in-person with their book groups who routinely meet over Zoom, did crafts, and learned about otters. After lunch, they split into three groups to play theater improvisation games with Douglas, learn about animals in the inter-tidal zone, and screen-print their own t-shirts. When rain canceled a game of capture the flag, the group made do by dancing and playing games in the Town Hall. Friday wrapped up with a visit by children’s book author Chris Van Dusen and games of kick ball. 

Yvonne Thomas, Senior Community Development Officer from the Island Institute which provides logistical support for IIE, echoed how important this event was not just for the kids but for the whole island community, “The viability of a year-round island community is young families. This event helps families connect with one another and that is part of the glue that makes islands thrive.” Thomas stressed that the success of the event comes from the strong partnerships formed between island communities and schools and organizations like the Institute, the Mission, and Island Readers & Writers who helped bring Van Dusen to Isle au Haut.  

Lear more about the work of our Island Outreach program.

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