The Outer Islands Teaching and Learning Collaborative has reached a milestone: the first class of students involved in the TLC are about to graduate high school. At the first TLC reunion in March, they got to see each other for the first time in years.
Those high school students first met six years ago when a group of teachers got together and decided to link the schools on Maine’s six outer islands: Cliff, Monhegan, Matinicus, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, and the Cranberry Isles. Since 2010, the students in those schools have shared virtual book groups, field trips, and grown to be each other’s best friends (who live a ferry ride, long drive, plus a ferry ride away).
A few weeks ago, current and past members of the TLC gathered to share memories of the old days, and also to talk about post-TLC life. They shared their high school experiences, talked about common teenage challenges, and came up with advice for the island students about to make the big transition to mainland high schools. Depending on where the students live, they may commute to high school on the ferry (in Casco Bay) or stay with a mainland host family during the week. High school is a big transition for anyone, but for students who’ve grown up with just a handful of kids in their whole school, it’s even more of a shock to be one of 100 or more in a class.
The six high schoolers joined with the middle schoolers and offered an onslaught of advice. “Have a few close friends, but don’t be afraid to talk to new people and change friend groups.” “There are always the mean ones, but most of your teachers really want to help you, if you have a good attitude.” “Make sure you get enough sleep. Staying up all night isn’t worth it.” And so forth.
The middle schoolers looked a little stunned, and for good reason—it’s hard to anticipate an experience you haven’t had yet. But those 7th and 8th graders do know that whatever is coming, someone from an island has been through it all, and survived.
It wasn’t all serious—the older students were joined by elementary schoolers for an afternoon of bowling, pizza, and good old fashioned TLC-style fun. The group knows how to have a good time, no matter how old they are! And those chances to just dance, break out the traveling dress-up box, and get to know each other (usually on one of their biannual field trips) are when the students form such strong friendships.
The fact that people want to come back and continue the community is a big deal. As we say, 'Once a TLCer always a TLCer!’ - Jessie Odgren
Jessie Odgren, TLC coordinator at the Island Institute, said that the parents who attended may have benefitted most from the gathering. They were able to talk about the process of high school transition, sharing experiences and suggestions. The idea of figuring out how to transition kids to high school is daunting, especially if looking into private or boarding schools.
For the high schoolers, it was also a chance to look back and think about how special it was to have that virtual network of friends and classmates. When you’re an island kid in the TLC, it’s easy to take for granted. But when you join the mainland community, the value of those connections becomes clear.
“It was amazing to see all these kids who weren’t currently in the TLC,” said Jessie Odgren, "The fact that people want to come back and continue the community is a big deal. As we say, 'Once a TLCer always a TLCer!’ You’re always welcome back and will be part of the community. This came through loud and clear that day. There were people who hadn’t seen each other in 4 or 5 years and they just picked up where they left off."