Joseph McKeen
Center for the Common Good

The Island School Project

Story posted January 19, 2011

For several years, the Education Department and the McKeen Center have sponsored this project, allowing students from the 301/303 classes to experience the challenges, tensions, and possible solutions of rural island education by spending time with students and teachers from a rural Maine island school, both on the island and at Bowdoin. This year, the Island Schools Project took us to Deer Isle-Stonington - two small communities on one small island - both relying heavily on the fishing community as their main economic source.

Eighteen Bowdoin students, Professor Nancy Jennings and Education Department coordinator Sarah Chingos, arrived at Deer Isle-Stonington High School on October 28, 2010. After a wonderful dinner with some of the high school teachers, we attended a celebration for the Imagination Intensive Community Award that the school had received because of their partnerships with the well-developed arts community on the island. This celebration gave us a taste of the exciting opportunities for creativity and hands-on learning available to the students in grades K-12. So much of the community is involved in the high school, and both the fishing and arts communities are clearly emphasized in their educational system. We spent the next day in classes, talking with teachers at Deer Isle-Stonington High School, visiting the very active lobstering harbor, and meeting with leaders in the fishing community.

We then hosted the Deer Isle-Stonington High School sophomore class at Bowdoin on November 2, 2010. These students stayed in the college dorms with members of Education 301/303, went on a campus tour, and spent some time exploring the campus. One highlight of their visit was participating in our 301/303 class. We watched several representations of our communities on YouTube, discussing how these videos portrayed either Bowdoin or Deer-Isle Stonington. These clips were used as a launching point for a discussion about stereotypes of each community and the realities of the strengths and challenges of each.

Using our field notes and conversations as a guide, the 301/303 students completed the project by writing a paper discussing how tensions we found on the island related to education, and how we see the school, the students, and the community addressing these tensions. We used Michael Corbett’s article, "It was Fine, if You Wanted to Leave: Educational Ambivalence in a Nova Scotian Coastal Community 1963-1998,” as a theoretical base for our practical experiences, both on the island and at Bowdoin. As Corbett explains in this article, students from rural communities with strong ties to the ocean either face the option of staying and earning a difficult living by the sea, or leaving to pursue higher education, which often means leaving for good as there are few jobs on the island to return to with this type of education. With Corbett’s claims in mind, we evaluated the validity of these statements in relation to Deer Isle-Stonington, and they ways in which this specific community addresses these issues.

I feel that my role as the community course liaison for this Island Schools Project allowed me to explore in greater depth both the educational implications of the project as well as the community dynamics and impact on this small island school. As a Mainer, I was especially interested in this project as I was able to closely look at one of the issues that is deeply affecting the educational system in our state.

-Emily Walker '11

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I see this project as a way for Bowdoin to connect with the larger Maine community, emphasizing how much we can learn from those around us if we only look for it.
— Emily Walker '11