Education and Maine Island Life: Island Schools Project 2015

maine-harborSince 2008, the Island Schools Project has been a core service-learning component of the Education Department’s advanced seminars on Teaching and Learning and Curriculum Development. By studying some of Maine’s smallest and unique communities, students are able to deeply explore the opportunities and challenges of teaching in small communities. In the fall of 2015, sixteen Bowdoin Teaching minors partnered with the island community of Deer Isle-Stonington, Maine, to learn firsthand about the community’s educational resources, economic challenges, and community culture. Deer Isle-Stonington is an island community of 2,400 year-round residents and together its K-8 and 9-12 schools serve about 325 students. Lobstering and other marine fisheries make up most of the island’s economy; Stonington has been Maine’s most successful commercial fisheries port for over three years.

dshs-pierSoon after the fall semester began, Bowdoin students were immersed in background research on the school and community to gain a deeper understanding of the factors at work in Deer Isle-Stonington. Then, students made the journey to the island, where they were able to explore the Stonington harbor before being joined by Deer Isle-Stonington High School (DISHS) principal Todd West, Bowdoin Teaching alumnus and Teaching Fellow at DISHS Tom Read ’15, Patrick Shepard, Fisheries Policy Associate at Penobscot East Resource Center, and Christina Fifield, coordinator of the Eastern Maine Skippers Program at Penobscot East. Over dinner, these community leaders shared their personal experiences in the community and the insights into the ways that DISHS and the community of Deer Isle-Stonington interact.

Bowdoin students began the following day in a multidisciplinary English-Performing Arts classroom, one of many “pathways” classes at DISHS that integrate community resources to provide students with an expeditionary, place-based education that is deliberately relevant to students’ outside lives. Prior to the trip to Deer Isle-Stonington, Bowdoin students worked in groups of 2-3 to prepare 80-minute poetry lessons to teach to small groups of DISHS students. During the afternoon, Bowdoin students joined DISHS students in the Marine Pathway on a field trip to a lobster buying station where they observed an in-the-field lesson on safety on lobster boats and a background on the process of preparing lobsters to be sold. Bowdoin students also had the opportunity to sit in on various classes at DISHS as well as a PLC meeting, weekly meeting of all educators and administrators in the school. Through both of these opportunities, Bowdoin students learned how educators and administrators at DISHS utilize their resources to create curricula and school culture that both reflects and enhances their community.

Less than one month later, Bowdoin and DISHS were reunited, this time on Bowdoin’s campus, where DISHS were to experience a carefully planned step into life as a college student. Less than an hour after arriving on campus, DISHS attended various Bowdoin classes related to the classes they were taking at DISHS and co-participated in the Teaching and Learning/Curriculum Development seminars. DISHS students later had the opportunity to tour spaces for athletics, performing arts, and visual arts. DISHS students spent the night in Bowdoin dorm rooms and joined Bowdoin students for meals and casual conversations in Thorne Dining Hall. Before departing, DISHS students met with former DISHS students now studying at Bowdoin and professional leaders of Upward Bound and Project Launch, college aspirational organizations operating at Bowdoin and in Deer Isle-Stonington, respectively. The visit to Bowdoin’s campus allowed DISHS students to personally experience life as a college student as well as to deepen the education they are receiving at DISHS.

The 2015 Island Schools Project provided an opportunity for Bowdoin Teaching minors to learn more about one of Maine’s small island communities, as well as to explore the intricacies, opportunities, and challenges of teaching in a small community. The unit was also itself a lesson in orchestrating a successful educational field trip in the classroom; students prepared, experienced, and reflected on the Island Schools Project. The Island Schools Project was a holistic educational experience for Bowdoin Teaching minors as they prepare to teach not only in classrooms, but also in communities.

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