In 2008, a group of teachers from Islesford, Isle au Haut, Matinicus, and Monhegan gathered for a retreat on the Sunbeam. During this time, they discussed the ways in which teaching in one- and two-room schoolhouses could be challenging and isolating, both for teachers and students. So, they decided to start a group, which would later become the Outer Islands Teaching and Learning Collaborative (TLC), where they could meet regularly to offer each other support and get their students together. Knowing that they needed support for both technology and project coordination, the group approached Island Institute and in 2014, the TLC became part of that organization, with the Mission continuing to offer support.
15 years later, the group now includes teachers from Cliff, Chebeague, and Frenchboro
, as well as Cuttyhunk, which has the only one-room island school in Massachusetts. The teachers meet weekly on Zoom during the school year and hold a retreat in the summer. This August, the TLC met for their two-day retreat on the Sunbeam.
On the first day, the teachers visited Frenchboro to explore the island and plan the Inter-Island Event (IIE). IIE is a special few days at the beginning of the school year for students, teachers, and the whole island community. Director of Island Services Douglas Cornman explains that the majority of island schools have less than five students in kindergarten through eighth grade this academic year. Occasions like IIE as well as two field trips held by TLC, “give students the opportunities to play, share space, and have a peer group.”
The second day of the teacher’s retreat provides teachers a time to collaborate and work on providing those peer group activities. Each year, the schools run a virtual book group where students are split into grade-level reading groups and host discussions. Some previous book group selections include Adventure on Dolphin Island, Beyond the Bright Sea, Esperanza Rising, and Mercy Watson. The book group gives students a time to learn alongside students their own age, an opportunity they might not get during their regular day-to-day.
And the IIE gives students a chance to foster these relationships with other students even more. This year’s IIE saw kids, parents, and teachers taking the ferry to Frenchboro for three days of fun and learning. Douglas says this year’s event included whiffle ball games, hikes, arts and crafts, a visit to the Frenchboro Historical Society, as well as a dance party. “IIE is magical. It is truly an island community event,” Douglas explains. “Though The Island Institute and the Mission supports the event, it is planned and executed by the host island community. They do all the work. Adults take time from their daily work and routines to help whether it is making food, offering an activity, or just making time to talk with a child from a different island.” And the kids know that this is a special time too, “It is hard to explain how amazing it is to watch kids who do not get to spend much time together in-person, gather and interact as though they are together all the time,” Douglas adds.
And even though the IIE is over, Douglas and the Mission continue to provide support to the TLC and island students. Douglas hosts movement classes on Zoom every Friday for all outer island students and visits schools whenever he is on an island. Find out more about the work the Mission does on outer islands.