A Wednesday ferry ride to Frenchboro in late September is usually a quiet one. You should expect a mild chill in the air, a handful of day-trippers heading out to enjoy the island trails, and several islanders commuting for routine mainland errands. What most travelers do not expect from such a ferry run is an energetic assembly of 24 island students, their parents, their teachers, and staff from Island Institute and Maine Seacoast Mission. This rowdy crew was my purpose for coming aboard M/V Captain Henry Lee that day, as I was tasked with documenting a Maine island tradition that has had a true and lasting impact on island school children and families.
The Inter-Island Event is a grass roots outer-island tradition that has taken place nearly every fall since the 1980s in which the children of Maine’s outer island schools convene on a host island for an opportunity to expand their social networks and connect with kids from other island communities. The schools that participate in the Inter-Island event have some of the smallest student populations—in fact, the children on most of these islands can count their classmates on one hand. An island upbringing often causes a child to grow strong bonds to their fellow classmates and friends, but island students can miss out on parts of childhood that mainland children take for granted, like socializing with a large pool of peers their own age. It can be especially difficult for these students to integrate with non-island children when they transition to the mainland for high school.
The importance of island schools is ingrained in the DNA of Island Institute. Island education was one of the very first program areas of the nonprofit, dating back to 1985. Island Institute’s Outer Island Teaching and Learning Collaborative (TLC) and Maine Seacoast Mission both support this annual outing, providing human power and helping with logistics. Although, the real orchestrators are the island communities themselves. On Frenchboro, Island parents spent weeks planning and organizing local volunteers which included: a Frenchboro lobsterman preparing the smorgasbord spaghetti supper for the whole group, a local woodcrafter hosting a lesson for the kids at the community center, island dads posting up behind home plate to call balls and strikes during the pick-up wiffle ball games (it isn’t every day you have enough participants on Frenchboro for a proper game of wiffle ball!), and much more.
When TLC teachers and parents reflected on the annual event, the sentiment was one of gratitude. One responded, “The Inter Island Event is a much-needed connection for island teachers, students, and families. I love to see new connections being formed and students willing to step outside their comfort zone.”
As for the students, it’s nothing but gratitude from them as well:
Looking back on that Wednesday ferry ride to Frenchboro, I remember having the pleasure of describing the tradition of the Inter-Island event to some tourists who were visiting the island for the first time. They noticed I was affiliated with the group, got my attention, and inquired about the field trip to Frenchboro. I told them about the Inter-Island Event, the mission of Island Institute, the origins of TLC, and the challenges faced by outer-island schools. One tourist joked to her partner that if they had known about this event, they would have chosen a different day for their “quiet island retreat”. Upon second thought, the couple agreed that there are worse sounds to hear echo across the harbor than the laughter of children playing, connecting, and making memories.
Click through the photo gallery for highlights from the trip: