Last week I was fortunate to experience my first ever TLC field trip.
The Outer Islands Teaching and Learning Collaborative, or TLC, is a group of one- and two-room school houses whose teachers support each other on curriculum and problem solving and whose students meet for virtual reading groups, student council, and science classes. Based on my experiences the past few months, the highlight of the TLC is the biannual field trip. Each fall and each spring, the TLC schools join together for multi-day field trips off island, a chance for socialization and off-island experiences, not to mention overstimulation, play, packed schedules, and possibly a college campus dining hall buffet (dessert, anyone?).
Cars of students, parents, grandparents, and teachers trickled into Friends Camp in China, Maine, on Monday afternoon until all 42 of us had arrived. In advance of the trip, each community had already accomplished a logistical task to coordinate ferry schedules and carpools to make it to camp. One car even traveled from Massachusetts! The only non-Maine community in the group, the tiny island school in Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts, joined the TLC this year.
As people settled into their cabins, kids familiarized themselves with the swings, climbing rope, basketball court, treehouse, and playing field. While some kids were timid and chose to stay close to their parents, others immediately reconnected with their friends from other islands. Seeing kids playing and exploring their surroundings before any official start of programming was a cue to me that these next 48 hours on the trip would fall right into place.
Sure enough, the students were ready to learn and interact when our Chewonki presenter arrived to teach us about owls, their adaptations, and the rehabilitation efforts of the highly-anticipated live owls we met. Setting a positive tone for the rest of the trip, the students were respectful and curious, captivated by the afternoon presentation. That evening, after dinner and book groups, the kids continued to come out of their shells as we played tag games, duck-duck-goose, and wore ourselves out before bed!
The TLC Student Council helped to plan certain aspects of the trip, and they had advocated for participating in community service experiences. So, we began our busy second day by loading into a full-sized school bus (a not-so-common experience for students who are one of perhaps four kids in their school), and we headed towards Augusta. One group spent the morning cleaning trails and gardens at Viles Arboretum, while others began their day at the Kennebec Valley Humane Society.
We then loaded back onto the bus and headed to Old Fort Western for some local history. Next to the fort we found a giant playground, which lured us in as we wrapped up our picnic lunch. Pictured below are several students in one small corner of the epic playground.
Later that afternoon we headed to Colby College for some contemplating in the art museum and some studio time to work on our own watercolor collages. This all occurred before our dining hall buffet dinner, during which a fourth grader assured us that, yes, he had eaten some vegetables, and yes he was enjoying his fourth scoop of ice cream!
We wrapped up the busy day with a guitar concert by Bobby Lovelace, who shared a few originals in addition to many popular covers. We were grateful for not just his music, but also for his storytelling and humor as he entertained us all. The performance reminded me of the power of story and music in bringing people together, connecting folks of different ages and backgrounds, sharing laughs and emotion. After nearly twelve hours out and about, many sleepy children and adults left the auditorium for a final bus ride back to camp, ready to settle in for the night.
On the bus, one student opened up to me about her life, including some of the challenges she and her family have faced. In just two days, we had built rapport and trust, enhancing further connection. In those two days, I observed timid children emerging as independent social leaders, running off with new friends and hugging during goodbyes on our final morning. In 48 hours, I connected with parents who taught me more about their home communities and enthusiastically spent time away from work to support their children and the TLC.
Wednesday morning, we visited the Maine State Museum and said our goodbyes. As we departed, I felt a sense of longing. Yes, we were all longing for home after three days away, and we were also longing for more. More of these TLC trips. More time with friends from other islands. More connection. More energy for the TLC in the coming school year. As the school year winds down, I am looking forward to our final student council meeting and my visits to TLC schools, where students can teach me about the places they know so well. I can’t wait to keep learning about some of Maine’s island communities as I continue to work with the TLC in the year to come.