As I reflect on my first semester with the Outer Island Teaching and Learning Collaborative (TLC), I’ve learned a few valuable lessons about what it means to be a TLC student, teacher, and a Student Services Community Development Officer with the Island Institute.
The transfer station can be a wondrous place
This year's TLC fall field trip in early November revolved around the word "conservation." Students examined the conservation of native species and land at Merryspring Nature Center, preserving history at the Maine Lighthouse and Farnsworth Museums, and conserving resources through a deeper understanding of the waste stream by visiting the Camden-Rockport transfer station. When we arrived at the transfer station, we were joyfully greeted by Jim Guerra, whose excitement for trash was contagious. Jim, and board member Alison McKellar, guided students through the transfer station, where they curiously poked their heads in the large shipping containers holding recyclables and darted through locals disposing of their household waste to ask Jim questions about different types of plastics. Jim took us all inside their sorting facility, where students stood next to towering stacks of recyclables compressed into enormous blocks that were stacked like Legos.
Our visit concluded with a hike up the old landfill, where students could take in the birds-eye view of the operation. The entire experience was eye-opening for students and adults alike, exposing the volume of waste produced, the great efforts undertaken by the transfer station staff to direct that waste to the proper place, and the unrealized potentials of reducing, reusing, and recycling our garbage.
The legacy of the TLC
On the ferry ride back from a visit to the Ashley Bryan School on Islesford in mid-October, my colleague Yvonne and I sat next to two ladies on the boat. Having seen us with the students while waiting for the ferry to arrive, the pair inquired as to whether we were working with the school. We explained that we were just wrapping up a tour of all the TLC schools and that we were excited to reconnect with the Cranberry students after spending time with them in September at the Inter-Island Event. The pair then began reminiscing about some of the Inter-Island Events their children had attended years ago.
As our conversation continued, it became clear to me the depth and value that partnerships like the TLC, the Inter-Island Event, and the Sunbeam have for the island communities and how the richness of that legacy persists today. It made me grateful to be a part of that continuation and for the chance encounter we’d made on the ferry ride home.
Island leaders wear many hats
My maiden voyage with the TLC was to this year’s Inter-Island Event hosted by Monhegan. After a harrowing boat ride out, we were welcomed to the island with open arms and a celebratory greeting that brightened an otherwise dreary day. Once our feet hit the dirt roads of Monhegan, the careful planning and extraordinary leadership of the teachers and community members was evident. The three-day, mostly outdoor and camping event, could have easily been waylaid by the hail and high winds that evening, the scattered ferry schedule and participant arrivals, or the sheer number of people that came to partake in the festivities. However, we were in the hands of master planners and experts in adaptability, the hallmarks of veteran island leaders and teachers, and the event sailed forward smoothly.
I quickly understood that many of the school and community members are incredible leaders who must wear a multitude of hats in order to help their island thrive.
Island students are curious, collaborative, and deeply rooted in their communities
Whether it be trompsing through the woods, exploring a lighthouse, or sitting down to complete an assignment, it’s clear through any interaction with island students that they are self-directed, curious, and have a strong sense of place. In an educational world that strives to produce resilient and inquisitive students, island kids seem to have a knack for being engaged learners. I’ve been amazed at the intimate knowledge students have of their islands and communities; they are able to explain the history and use of streams, trails, shoreline clay, and historic buildings. Learning in a classroom with one teacher and a diverse age range, I’ve been impressed by the students’ ability to independently dive into a book written more than a century ago or help another out with a math concept they may have struggled with in a previous year. I’ve also been impressed with the questions the students have asked, even when exploring a subject matter that is of little personal interest to them—there is an innate curiosity that has been cultivated in their island school and community.
While being a student on an island certainly comes with a fair share of challenges, I’ve learned that some of the best learning qualities can be fostered in an environment where students of different ages can explore with one another and and forge a meaningful relationship with their teacher and community.
The importance of connection
Like the water that connects them, there is an ebb and flow to the interpersonal connections within the TLC community. Virtual student council meetings and teacher check-ins are matched with in-person events like the fall field trip and Inter-Island event. The current that unites these touchpoints is the importance of maintaining relationships through patterns of reconnection. When gathering in person, students seamlessly meld as if they attend the same school. Teachers bond over fresh and perennial challenges unique to island teachers.
To say that the TLC community is bought-in would be an understatement. This dedication to prioritizing connection stands as a testament to the value of building bridges, figuratively of course, and the richness of a shared experience.