Location: Bowdoin / McKeen Center / Activity / 2009 / Island School Project

The Island School Project

Story posted December 10, 2009
By: Ben Lovell '10

Every year the Education Department, in conjunction with the McKeen Center for the Common Good, sponsors the Island Schools Project. This program allows Bowdoin teaching minors an opportunity to explore the issues surrounding rural education and address the solutions Maine island schools are employing to confront them. On October 15th, 2009 seventeen members of Education 301/303, along with professors Templeton and Dorn, arrived on North Haven, a year-round island community in Penobscot Bay. North Haven is home to the smallest public K-12 school in Maine. That night Bowdoin students were treated to a potluck dinner and watched a high school presentation at the island’s community center. The student presentation revolved around their expeditionary learning model. As a result of this model, NH students spent the first few weeks of the year learning about land use regulations, Plum Creek’s development plan for Moosehead Lake, and local zoning laws. Then for one week this fall North Haven students went on their annual expedition to the areas, specifically Indian Pond, that are slated for development by Plum Creek. The following day Bowdoin students were treated to a discussion over breakfast with North Haven teachers and spent the rest of the day observing in K-12 classrooms.

Based on these observations and the field notes taken, Education 301/303 students used their experiences to write a paper about how North Haven Community School addresses the challenges of rural schooling. As a graduate of NHCS and the community course liaison for this project I can attest to the difficulties that college poses for students coming from rural areas. One of the largest problems facing students from rural areas is the problematic position of schools in their community. As Michael Corbett describes in Learning to Leave, higher education presents a multitude of new opportunities for students; however, a problem often arises in that students who do go "away" to school often do not have an opportunity to use what they learn in their communities. Keeping this concept of the "irony" of education in rural communities in mind, Bowdoin students observed the ways in which North Haven's expeditionary learning model addresses these problems.

For the second part of the Island Schools Project, in return for the hospitality and openness of NHCS staff, students and community, North Haven high school students arrived at Bowdoin on October 19th, 2009. That night North Haven students, after playing basketball and pool in Smith Union, stayed with their hosts from Education 301/303 in the college dorms. The following day Bowdoin and North Haven students met in the morning for a joint class of Education 301/303. The lively discussion between North Haven and Bowdoin students focused on the question of whether education should be student-centered or teacher-centered, and which is more beneficial. One North Haven student commented, "I honestly can’t say enough about the Bowdoin exchange…. Another aspect of the trip I liked was the class. I didn’t want it to end…. It made me question a lot about education and what, why and who decides." The rest of the day North Haven students met with representatives from Admissions, Financial Aid, and participated in a panel discussion with Bowdoin students from rural areas about the issues of coming to college. By the end of the day neither Bowdoin nor North Haven students wanted the experience to end. "I did not want to leave Bowdoin," lamented one North Haven student. Adding, "I was dreading it [coming to Bowdoin]…. But it ended up being one of the most fun things I have done so far this year!"

The Island Schools Project has had a profound impact on me as community course liaison. As an alumnus of NHCS and a member of the North Haven community I am grateful for the opportunity to bring my Bowdoin experience home for a useful and vital purpose. However, the lessons learned through the Island Schools Project are not only important for me personally, the members of Education 301/303, or the students of NHCS. Rather, this project seems to strike at the very heart of Bowdoin’s commitment to the common good. It is true that Bowdoin has an abundance of resources to share with outside organizations, and this project highlights just how much we stand to learn from those in our own backyard. The North Haven community and NHCS provide a positive example of the many ways that public schools can and are addressing the problems of rural education in Maine.

Students in Education 301/303 will be sharing their experiences with the Island Schools Project at the Campus Community Collaborations Symposium, Friday, December 11, 2:30-4:00 p.m. in Main Lounge, Moulton Union.

submitted by Ben Lovell '10, Community Course Liaison, EDUC 301/303

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"The Island Schools Project has had a profound impact on me as community course liaison. As an alumnus of NHCS and a member of the North Haven community I am grateful for the opportunity to bring my Bowdoin experience home for a useful and vital purpose."
— Ben Lovell '10 Community Course Liaison, Educ 301/303