What do a two-day old baby boy in Hope, 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-plus people who attended a virtual party in May to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the TLC (the full name is the Outer Islands Teaching and Learning Collaborative).
The TLC is a collaboration among the one- and two-room Maine island schools of Cliff, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, the Cranberry Isles, Matinicus, and Monhegan; 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.
The party was kicked off with an activity in which the group made a virtual word cloud that highlighted favorite aspects of the TLC with the words students, teachers, friends, fun, and field trips all ranking high. 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—crafts and cards that were mailed out to participants in time to open together at the party, helping create a tangible connection between party-goers. There was a game of TLC trivia created on an easy to use platform called Slido and we got into break-out rooms and created songs and cheers inspired by the TLC—a couple of groups even had impromptu costumes and props (TLCers have a long history of dressing up for spirit weeks and holiday celebrations, there’s usually a wig or cape close by).
And we recognized the graduating 8th graders: these are the first students to have graduated having been in the TLC for their entire school careers. And we viewed a special recorded video message of congratulations from Sen. Angus King who has been a fan of the TLC for years. We then finished up with an epic slide show looking back at the past ten years of our collaboration.
When the party was over, there was overwhelmingly positive feedback and gratitude for the party and for the TLC with comments like: “What a great party! That was awesome! Loved all the pictures. We love the TLC! TLC rocks! 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. The high level of participation and engagement across the islands, across multiple grade levels and generations and across ten 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 don’t know what next school year will be like, but we 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.
Yvonne Thomas is a community development officer and education specialist for the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront.