The Working Waterfront

Small island schools better with TLC

Volunteers dedicate hundreds of hours to helping program work

Posted 2017-07-18
Last Modified 2017-07-18

Think back to 2008: summer Olympics in Beijing; signs of the Great Recession start to show; Barack Obama is elected president; Celtics beat the Lakers in the NBA finals.

On Maine’s outer islands, teachers work tirelessly to maintain their one-room schools. Tirelessly and separately. Each school has a teacher and a small number of students. Enrollment in several schools is down and consequently, students often work alone in their age groups.

The Outer Islands Teaching & Learning Collaborative (TLC) was founded by island teachers in 2009 based on the recognition that teaching and learning on the outer islands is challenging, isolated, and isolating. These teachers identified the need to provide peer support to one another and their students.

The TLC island schools—on Cliff, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, Matinicus and Monhegan islands, and the Cranberry Isles—use video conferencing and other distance learning technology to bridge gaps between their classrooms. Teachers meet every other week to discuss academic collaborations. Students meet virtually for academic and social events. All this virtual collaboration is supported by three in-person field visits each year.

The TLC recently completed its seventh year of collaborative work, demonstrating success in its mission to create a “lifeline of support for students and teachers in order to sustain our one- and two-room island schools.”

Another milestone: this was the first year the TLC did not have a founding member either in a teaching or staff role. If this year were a test of whether the TLC had legs to stand on its own, I think we passed!

That’s not to say there wasn’t huge support provided on the part of the well-established TLC community. Part of what drives the work forward is the continued commitment by veteran TLC members.

In the winter of 2016, a TLC advisory board was created to support communication with TLC communities and ensure an islander voice in program development. Having started at the Island Institute as TLC program coordinator last summer, and knowing how much I leaned on them for guidance this year, I can confidently say that the TLC advisors have fulfilled their role.

Over the course of the year, the advisors upped their meeting schedule from twice a year to every month. That level of community volunteerism is no small feat. Meeting time, preparation, and “homework” completed by TLC advisors this school year totaled nearly 100 hours. If that doesn’t show commitment to the sustainability of the program, I’m not sure what does.

Like many in small, rural communities, islanders wear numerous hats in their roles within the community.

One of our TLC advisors is a spouse of a commercial fisherman, and so support this work; a school parent; chairwoman of the school, cemetery and land trust nominating committees; technology manager of the school; self-employed gardener; deputy director of the Emergency Management Agency; member of volunteer fire department; and bookkeeper for the roads department. Talk about wearing many hats—how about ten of them?

We also have on our advisory board a principal; members of eldercare, sustainability and energy teams; a baker and small business owner; a community radio host; volunteer EMTs; a writer; and numerous former TLC teachers and parents.

Who are these amazing women? Our advisory board includes Natalie Ames (Matinicus), Cheryl Crowley (Cliff), Lindsay Eysnogle (Cranberry Isles), Paula Greatorex (Isle au Haut), Donna Isaacs (Cranberry Isles), Eva Murray (Matinicus), and Jes Stevens (Monhegan).

These women are unparalleled in their commitment to supporting the TLC teachers and students. Seven advisors, 100 hours volunteered each. No, your math isn’t wrong—that comes to 700 hours dedicated to ensuring the teachers and students of the TLC outer island schools continue their collaborative work with and support for each other.

If you know any of these seven women, I ask you to thank them. If you don’t, get to know them so that you can. Most of all, hats off to the TLC advisors. All the hats.

Tess Beem is an education associate with the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront.