What do a two-day old baby boy in Hope, Maine, a family in the Bahamas, an Island Fellow on Frenchboro, and a Maine Islands Coalition representative on Cliff Island have in common? They were all among the 50+ people who attended a virtual party in May to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Outer Islands Teaching and Learning Collaborative, or TLC. The TLC is a collaboration among the one- and two-room Maine island schools of Cliff, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, the Cranberry Islands, Matinicus, and Monhegan, and recently, Cuttyhunk Island in Massachusetts joined. Through in-person and virtual connections, TLC students and teachers create a rich and supportive inter-island peer network that provides a lifeline of support.
We had originally planned to have the party be an in-person extravaganza during our annual spring field trip, but COVID-19 changed that and sent us back to the party-planning drawing board to re-think our event for an online setting. We knew we could still bring the full TLC community (students, teachers and friends) together to honor this important milestone because, out of necessity, video conferencing has always been an essential and dynamic part of the TLC. The TLC is very good at making virtual celebrations fun and funny, and this one was no exception.
The TLC's student council helped plan the agenda for the party, so that it would work for both the kids and the adults. They made party favors that included crafts and cards which were mailed out to participants ahead of time, so that everyone could open them together at the party. This helped to create a tangible connection between party-goers, even though we couldn't gather in person.
On the day of the party, we kicked everything off with an interactive activity where the group made a virtual word cloud that highlighted favorite aspects of the TLC. The words "students," "teachers," "friends," "fun," and "field trips" all ranked high and helped to reassert the value of the connections made in the TLC, both between students and teachers and between peers. Other activities included a game of TLC trivia, created on an easy-to-use online platform called Slido, where everyone could answer questions and interact together despite our separation. After that, we got into breakout rooms and created songs and cheers inspired by the TLC. During the breakout sessions, a couple of groups even had impromptu costumes and props to help liven things up and create a fun and festive eexperience. TLCers have a long history of dressing up for spirit weeks and holiday celebrations, so there's usually a wig or cape close by!
TLC students, alumni, teachers, and families gathered together on May 21, 2020 for a virtual celebration marking the 10-year anniversary of the Outer Islands Teaching and Learning Collaborative.
For the graduating 8th graders—the first students to graduate having been in the TLC for their entire school careers—we used the party as an opportunity to recognize them and celebrate their accomplishments. As a special surprise, we viewed a recorded video message of congratulations from Senator Angus King, who has been a fan of the TLC for years.
We then ended the celebration with an epic slide show that looked back at the past 10 years of our collaboration.
When the party was over, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and participants expressed gratitude for both the party and the TLC with comments like: "What a great party!"; "That was awesome!"; "Loved all the pictures."; "We love the TLC!"; "TLC rocks!"; and "Thanks to everyone at the Island Institute and all the islands!"
The student council felt that the party was a success, because it was both organized and fun. In addition, the high level of participation and engagement across the islands, across multiple grade levels and generations, and across 10 school years speaks to the power of the collaboration and the relationships that support it.
The trajectory for this school year has been so unexpected, and in many ways so hard, which makes long-standing, successful collaborations like the TLC even more valuable. We might not know what next school year will be like, but we do know that the TLC will be there to keep the collaboration going. Working together, the TLC will continue to help the outer island schools make the most out of the abundant opportunities we have and work together to address the inevitable challenges, and of course, have fun in the process.