Story & Clark Organ Returns to Hurricane Island after 100 Years
Header image from Fred Poisson's Maine Series - see full image below
During the warm months of summer, when our programs are in full swing, the island is constantly buzzing with an incredible variety of visitors. Students, educators, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, activists, explorers, and so many others grace our shores and trails. Over the 2016 summer season, in addition to our 900+ program participants, the Hawai’i-based crew of the Hokule’a joined us for a few days after sailing across the Atlantic from Cape Town, South Africa; Celina Baines, a doctoral candidate from the University of Toronto, came to Hurricane in search of a particular type of water bug that survives in aquatic environments all over the continent; and John Connelly, who lives in Falmouth, ME and is the owner of Adventurous Joe coffee, stopped to rest on Hurricane during his 1,500 mile kayaking journey.
Among this swath of visitors was Fred Poisson, a painter whose home base is Block Island, no farther than 15 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. We shared a few brief but delightful conversations over meals during his short stay on Hurricane. Fred grew up in a brackish cove in Essex, Connecticut, maintaining a close relationship with nature throughout his life. He received his BFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design and has mastered the art of watercolor painting over the years. When I first saw Fred’s paintings, I couldn’t believe they were paintings at all - I was convinced they were photographs! In a magical configuration of pigment, water, and physics, Fred draws you into his work by jogging your memory and bringing you back to a place for which you long to return. His paintings capture the way light reflects, the moment when water pauses immediately before completing the motion of a wave, the brief instance at sunset when the sky and clouds are illuminated with pink shortly after the sun has disappeared beyond the horizon…
I’m not one to long for summer. After all, one of my favorite moments is the unparalleled quiet that blankets the world during a gentle snowfall. However, Fred’s paintings of Maine brought me back to those warm and busy days on the island, especially in our current times of biting cold. Thus, in the spirit of summer, I recently reached out to Fred to continue some of those conversations we had several months ago.
When did you first become interested in landscape paintings, both as a subject and for your own paintings?
Probably high school or college, but I didn't do much of it until I was in my thirties. I studied painting in college. After college onward for many years, I did design work, then I got back into painting full time starting at 40. I'm 47 now. There was a brief period in my 30's where I picked up watercolors and made small paintings. That period was what led me to go back to it full time.
In many of your paintings, you include water in some form, whether it is bodies of water or snow or ice. You also work with water to make your paintings. What is the relationship between working with the same medium that is your subject?
It makes me happy that you see that! Looking back it seems water has been in my work since college. Working in a water based medium I think lends to capturing that element. I've always lived near water. I've always enjoyed being on and getting into water. It's a part of me. It's so dynamic.
You’re working with something very fluid to capture a moment that exists for only a split second. With this in mind, what does your process look like for making a painting?
Well, it's starts with a feeling. I never start out, “Now I'm going to paint this or that.” I have to have a strong feeling for something and that usually comes from being outside. Swimming, hiking, whatever it is I'm doing. Something along the way catches my eye or hits me headlong. No telling really. I've swam for years around the same rock and just last year made a series of how the water moves around it. As I studied it, I realized its positioning, shape, the way the bottom comes up causes the water to swirl in ways it simply doesn't around other rocks. The way the swell lines compress around it. I've looked at hundreds of other rocks since and haven't seen the same dynamic.
With landscape painting, one has a very real and physical relationship with that space, which is what you are describing. Does that relationship affect your painting or interpretation of that place?
Definitely. There's an intimacy. I really enjoyed painting Maine this fall but I don't have the same relationship as I do with Block Island. That said, the newness was interesting and energizing. Like meeting an interesting person for the first time.
We had a very brief conversation about the relationship between art and science. How do you view the two disciplines?
Related. Some would say Cezanne's approach to painting predates Einstein's theory of relativity. Quantified differently but going at the same principle. My first mentor in art was a Swiss artist who had studied all the sciences as well. Went to med school, even.
Do you think art and science assist or complement each other?
I think the element of observation is critical to both. They both attempt to bring understanding to the world around us through that action.
I also think about the use of art as a tool for critical inquiry, especially within scientific disciplines. There are many ways we can "see" something, as well as ways to go about asking questions and making discoveries.
Right, and learning to look and investigate critically from a variety of perspectives.
I think your paintings, for me, communicate the ways you see and engage with water to your viewer.
It's back to having a feeling first then the idea comes about.
Do you have any dream destinations or places that you would like to paint?
I do, but I don’t want to give the idea away!
This interview has been edited and condensed. The images included in this post are provided courtesy of the artist and are from his Maine series completed during his visit late last summer. I highly encourage you to view more of Fred’s work on his Instagram or his website.
In the mid-1970s, I was a scallop diver in and around North Haven and Vinalhaven. It was cold, exhausting, but ultimately rewarding work. One snowy December day, my partner and I managed to gather and shuck 104 lbs of delicious Penobscot Bay scallops that netted over $400, my best “catch” ever. But over the years, scallops became harder and harder to find. On good days, we were lucky to get 20 lbs. We dove less and less frequently because it wasn’t worth the time and effort.
Finally, I stopped scalloping altogether to focus on teaching, and then watched over the years as the scallop catch continued to decline and local fishermen, mostly draggers, turned to other fisheries. Many gave up their licenses. Eventually the season was shortened, catches limited, and areas closed – all in an effort to allow the scallop fishery to recover. Scallop licenses were frozen by the State, and today, many former scallop fishermen and fisherwomen can no longer legally catch scallops.
Yet, the hope is that scallops will again become an important part of the Maine fishing economy, especially with the prospect of a potential decline in the lobster catch as ocean temperatures warm and lobsters migrate north and east in the Gulf of Maine. What might take lobsters’ place? Could it be that delicious Maine scallops could at least supplement lobsters for Maine’s fishing communities?
Last month, I had a chance to accompany two of our scientists, Cait Cleaver and Phoebe Jekielek, out to Hurricane to check on our scallop aquaculture research sites in the anchorage there. Cait has been working for four years with the DMR and Muscle Ridge scallop draggers to find ways to restore the local fishery. Recently, she decided that we should consider growing scallops rather than just dragging for them in the wild.
It was a bitterly cold and breezy late fall morning, gray and overcast with snow in the forecast. We have several research scallop lines in the Hurricane anchorage, each with a frame carrying six trays of about 100 juvenile scallops. The frames sit on the bottom in about 30’ of water. Ten scallops in each tray have a numbered tag glued to their shells. Our task was to find and measure with a micrometer the ten tagged scallops in each tray, and then ten randomly selected scallops. We had to record the data – shell height (size), date, time, and water temperature - on pre-printed forms to be entered and compared with the previous month’s growth measurements. The scallops were then returned to their trays which were re-loaded into the frame and returned to the depths for another month.
The process took about three hours, dipping our bare hands into 44 degree seawater, picking out the scallops, carefully measuring them to hundredths of a centimeter, and writing down the information with a pencil held with frozen fingers. In 23 degree cold, sitting on a crate in the open stern of our boat, with little protection from the wind, it was a numbing experience. Remarkably, though, spirits remained high throughout, with hardly a complaint about the cold. There was a job to be done, the work of a field research scientist, and it had to be done with care and precision that couldn’t be compromised by haste or carelessness. We became so engrossed in our work that we hardly noticed the cold. Our conversation was about using our instruments, scallop size and growth, how scallops needed space and didn’t liked to be piled up like oysters, and of the Japanese technique of ‘ear hanging’ rather than using trays to grow scallops.
As a diver, I knew little about scallops except where I could find them, diving along the edges of the dragged areas and the rocky bottom where the draggers couldn’t go. I never gave much consideration to how fast they grew, what conditions were necessary for them to grow, or what might threaten their growth or survival. In spite of the evidence of their decline due to over-fishing, I assumed they’d recover somehow and always be around, part of the normal cycle of abundance and scarcity to which fisherman for centuries were accustomed (or resigned).
I had never been much of a science student in school. My experience with lectures and labs, and textbooks with terms in Latin, left me cold. My grades were poor. I had no interest or inclination to pursue a career in science. Yet, in the field, my interest was piqued, heightened. With a particular assignment to observe or gather or investigate, I viewed science entirely differently. That was my experience as a school principal who assisted occasionally the biology or geology teacher with a group assignment outdoors. That was my experience, too, measuring scallops on that cold day last month. Suddenly, I was interested in scallops as a species. I wanted to know more about various ways of growing scallops, about how and why scallops thrived in certain conditions and not others, about the economics and politics of scallop harvesting, and about what could be done to preserve and even grow the scallop fishery to help Maine’s maritime economy. For that brief moment, I became a field research scientist, and discovered I loved it.
Header photo tweeted by the Maine ASCD at the conference
As someone who has gone to a lot of education conferences over the past 6 years, both in the State of Maine and in New England in general, I definitely was accustomed to seeing a lot of the same faces over and over again. Laurie Bragg from the NSF funded SEANET project once joked with me that I must be following her because we kept showing up to the same events (in that case it happened to be three different events all around the State in the same week!) and that is really the sentiment that can be extended to a lot of other people in the region who all care about education. I didn’t realize how ‘comfortable’ I had become with that crowd until I attended a conference held by Educate Maine on Friday December 9th in Portland. For the first time in a long time, MOST of the people I was seeing were completely foreign to me and at the same time other areas of my life were converging in unexpected ways (like that quick “see you at Christmas” conversation I had in passing with Shawn Yardley, the Executive Director of Community Concepts, who I know much better as the father of my best friend from my grade school years). New synapses were definitely firing in my brain as I started making a whole new array of connections to people, school leaders, and businesses that I had never encountered before.
Educate Maine is a “business-led education advocacy organization whose mission is to champion college and career readiness and increased education attainment for all Maine people.” This tie to business was the key factor driving the day as sessions were all designed with a slant on ideas and innovations to ultimately improve Maine’s economy through increasing skilled workers in the State. Of course these sessions were all led by a combination of educators and business leaders so some were more focused on developing the student as a person and a citizen and others were more centrally focused on students as future workers.
The Whole Child session I attended was much more about the ‘boots-on-the-ground’ implementation and was led by three Maine educators that had ties to the international ASCD education group. We participated in small group discussions and it was great to recognize the number of people who understand that a ‘whole child’ approach to education doesn’t end in the elementary grades, it is about the long-term development of a ‘child’ through secondary education and beyond. It made me think about the work we do on Hurricane in a different context than what I normally tout when talking to prospective schools or students. Yes at the heart of us we are a STEM based institution but our focus goes beyond “science” and extends into “sustainability and leadership”. Our programming not only centers on the sustainable systems on the island or ecosystem or even whole earth sustainability but also addresses individual sustainability and encourages introspection through art and journaling and just ‘being’ in nature. Our leadership approach focuses on those ‘21st century’ skills that are so important for long term personal and workplace success: teamwork, determination and grit, problem solving, empathy, and so forth. Through all of our programming we really are focusing on the ‘whole child’ and it was nice to reflect on that as something that we really can be using more when we promote who we are and what we do.
The other session I attended was on Experiential Education and was much more focused on the business sector as it introduced a panel of business leaders who all have internship programs for undergraduates (and occasionally programs for high school students as well). I was so impressed with the panel as a whole, not only for the internship opportunities that they were offering in a variety of fields and contexts, but for their general camaraderie with each other. One of my favorite quotes of the day came from Giovani Twigge from IDEXX Laboratory, Inc. who explained “We need to change people’s attitudes [from being competitive] to create an open ecosystem. We can’t be everything to everybody.” He was referring to the level of collaboration between different organizations that would ordinarily be ‘competing’ for the same pool of qualified intern or job applicants. These businesses are achieving amazing results by keeping that ‘open ecosystem’ where they readily refer people to each other’s postings that might be a better fit and share ideas about how to best set up comprehensive internship programs that support the interns throughout their development. That level of community and collaboration is second nature to me, especially working in the context of Hurricane Island, but it is not so common among employers so it was great to see those relationships exemplified.
The sessions were bookended by two speakers who each gave incredibly inspiring talks. Once again I walked away with some great quotes, this time in direct relation to the work that I am trying to do in my everyday life. Deanna Sherman, President of the Dead River Company shared that one of the things she constantly tells her employees is “not to let ‘perfect’ get in the way of ‘good’.” This is something that immediately related back to all the curriculum I am creating and curating for Hurricane Island to build our base of free resources for teachers. Every teacher is going to take our resources and change and adapt it for their own classrooms. I am focusing so much on “perfect” that our ability to consistently publish new material is suffering. I have to let go of “perfect” and realize what we are creating is already pretty darn good and will be helpful to people in its current form. Stay tuned for more resources coming soon!
Nicholas Donahue of the Nellie Mae Foundation offered insight after insight but one of the most basic of his take-aways was to “focus first on the ‘weight bearing walls’” when trying to change education systems. Too often we jump to fix the cosmetic or quick fixes but if the underlying structure of what we are doing has a problem, nothing is going to really change the fact that we have an ‘unsound house’ that we are building. At Hurricane we have been working on assisting schools in a variety of ways from large scale, facilitated visioning sessions to redesign entire school systems right down to programs for individual students. As an ‘outside’ entity, we are not the ones who really will fix the ‘weight bearing walls’ of schools but we can continue to support schools and offer them everything from professional development to programs that help students meet State standards. It still got me thinking about how we can have a greater influence on ‘weight bearing walls’ in the future, which I am sure you will see me muse about in greater length here someday soon.
Our participation in Educate Maine’s Symposium was about making new connections and learning new things. It was an unexpectedly rich experience for me. It wasn’t that I went into the conference thinking that I would walk away dissatisfied, rather it was all about how much more valuable the conference was for me than I had anticipated. Instead of a bunch of activities or tangible ‘things’ to take back to Hurricane with me, I left with my head spinning as I was thinking about the BIG picture of who we are and what we are doing as an organization and how we play a vital role in the development of the schools, teachers, and students we serve through all our programs. I will leave you with a final quote that was referenced again by Mr. Donahue, though it certainly doesn’t belong to him. ...“Dirigo”.... In case you don’t remember (or were never told) what that word means or its context, it is the motto of our State and it means “I lead”. As a State we need to continue to be leaders in education innovation and Hurricane Island is excited to be part of that important work.
In late September, several members of the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center (TIOBEC) executive and program staff visited Hurricane Island. You can read Olga Feingold’s blog on that trip here, but one of the many things that came out of that visit was a standing invitation to visit them on their island in Boston Harbor. So when we were invited to take part in an education symposium discussing the opportunity gap, I accepted with delight. I first went to Thompson Island exactly two years ago with our Executive Director, Barney Hallowell, and Science Educator, Alice Anderson. Since that visit, TIOBEC has completed a capital campaign resulting in a campus that has had some upgrades.
My trip started with a last minute decision to get a direct flight to Boston from Rockland using an old voucher. I arrived at the airport about 10 minutes before the flight was to take off with the bag I usually take to overnight on Hurricane. As I hastily went through TSA, I confessed to the agents that I was unprepared for flying—no Ziploc bags…and as my bag went through the machines, they discovered the folding knife I carry with me to the island! Oops. Not a great start to the trip, but they were kind and reasonable. It was a bright sunny day—picture-perfect flight hugging the coast, still plenty of fall colors blazing.
The Boston seaport district is a fascinating area, undergoing many changes. I used to be able to make my way around Boston by orienting myself to the skyline, but that doesn’t work for me anymore in that neighborhood; the skyline keeps changing! And the seaport has a gritty, industrial character to it that is overshadowed here and there by pockets of ultra cool, innovative startups. The Design Center, next to the building housing TIOBEC’s offices, features eclectic spots for lunch, numerous design firms where you might select carpet or drapery, and a comfortable, sunny lobby where I parked myself for an hour to work while I awaited my traveling companions, Carol and Peter Willauer.
Peter, Carol, and I boarded the 5PM ferry to the island with our “concierge” Logan. It’s a lively trip—I love seeing the container ships up close, the industrial working waterfront, planes taking off just across the harbor, old forts on the harbor islands, tugboats, water taxis. What a different experience from Hurricane Island! Logan drove us up the hill to Sherbrooke House, the same place I stayed with Barney and Alice two years ago—but it’s since had a facelift. New windows, curtains, and heat make it quite comfortable.
We headed to Bowditch Hall for dinner with the staff and students. There were 80 or so students from a suburban public school eating in shifts with their teachers and with TIOBEC staff, and three staffers joined us. Emily, Tim, and Annie (pictured here with Peter) shared with us all kinds of program information and thoughts on what it’s like to live on the island for a season, such as how they manage time off.
After a comfortable night in Sherbrooke House, I rose early to catch a waning crescent moon high up over the quad. It feels so much like being on a school campus, from the old brick buildings placed atop a gently sloping hill to the crisp clear autumn weather. That’s no accident of course—it was started as a school many decades ago. Guests (60 of them!) arrived from the mainland around 8:30 as part of the Education Conversations, a series of free symposia focused on individuals and organizations partnering with and supporting public schools in Boston. The participants formed a diverse group of people representing many Boston-based nonprofits, the National Park Service, and teachers from the Boston Public Schools.
After introductions from TIOBEC executive staff, program staffer Tyler took the entire group into the next room for an Outward Bound “comfort zone” exercise. He had us walk into the center circle for each example he read aloud that feels to us to be in our comfort zone, and travel outside of a wider circle when the example makes us feel panic—the point being that you need to get out of your comfort zone to maximize readiness for learning but not be in panic mode. I was struck by the range of responses from the group. The examples were fun—swimming in the ocean with sharks, climbing 4000-foot mountains, navigating Boston without GPS. It was an interesting start to the morning as it framed the conversation to be most successful if it includes challenging ourselves individually and as a community.
Several speakers shared their thoughts and then we went into breakout sessions. The conversations were fascinating. Something quite relevant and applicable to our work in Maine is that although the race-based achievement gap has shrunk some in the past 20 years, the class-based achievement gap is growing. An interesting number I heard was that there are three college students for every Boston Public School student, suggesting tremendous opportunities for mentorship programs. I was incredibly impressed by the commitment and dedication to excellence by each person in the room, and I was left believing that the Boston Public Schools are doing a phenomenal job of educating students and connecting their students with resources through a wealth of partnerships. I’m looking forward to seeing the summation of the day.
Hurricane Island is one of those magical places that falls short of any other description. It’s easy to see why it’s been legendary to the Outward Bound community throughout the years. Even though Outward Bound is no longer a presence there, the magic is found throughout the people and places of this island.
For the past couple years I’ve had small glimpses into the programming at Hurricane Island. In 2014, Alice, Emily, and Barney came to visit Thompson Island. From our first conversation, I knew their science curriculum would be a lofty goal for us to achieve. This past winter our team met Phoebe and Jenn in Portland to share notes. It’s been nice having a team to share resources, collaborate, and feel equally invested in watching each other succeed.
As our Program Manager, Gemma, and I walked up the natural stone path through the main campus following Jenn to our cabin, there was a simultaneous moment where we glanced at each other. Taking in the beauty we wondered “is this how our students feel when they walk up the hill at Thompson Island?” The campus and ferry to the island are dramatic and breathtaking. After dropping our belongings in the tiny, modern, hipster cabin we immediately caught up with a group doing a self-guided data collection for their moss investigation. For this youth-led activity, the Hurricane Island instructor simply guided the students and shared facts when asked. He acted as living reference guide. He showed them different places around the island where moss grew as the students investigated which type of moss held the most water. In fact, inspiring isn’t the right word to even describe how mind blowing this experience was to our whole team.
Our Vice President of Education, Nikki, and Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Steve, both returned from their observations with a plethora of ideas. We never ended up shadowing the afternoon as we sat in the main cabin for the next five hours plotting and planning what needed to happen at Thompson Island Outward Bound to create the same atmosphere of youth led learning. We couldn’t stop ourselves from observing and making connections of the phenomenal activities we watched. When Jenn came to check in on us, we had a myriad of questions for her.
What was the average student age on course? What accommodations can they make? How do they scaffold for younger students? Who writes their science curriculum? How are they tapped into the local science community?
Eventually we exhausted ourselves and spent the hour before dinner exploring the rest of the island. I can see what our two physical places share in common. We both have access to remarkable flora and fauna. Everything from the tidal pools, beaches, varied forest ecosystems, and a quarry create a learning lab like no other! Being a place-based educator, I’ve always connected writing curriculum to using a microscope. Holding a lens over Hurricane Island, I see so many opportunities for citizen science. You can’t walk a foot without finding something interesting that’s just waiting to be discovered, investigated, and explored. It’s clear that many have tried, from the deeply interesting and unique organisms in the science laboratory.
There’s so many other moments that made this experience one of a kind. From the five star dining experience, hand-pressed apple juice made right under its tree, the sunrises and sunsets, and general kindness of every person we met, Hurricane Island has etched a memory into all of us who attended this experience.
After our far-too-short visit, having observed student presentations, we departed sadly but with a new-filled optimism for thinking through how we could achieve the same level of high-impact science programming. We are grateful to everyone at Hurricane Island for their support and encouragement to making our observations possible!
On September 24, eight high school students from Fryeburg Academy’s AP Environmental Science course journeyed to Hurricane for a weekend trip. Their teacher, John Urgese, tries to schedule experiential field trips at the beginning of the school year so that his classroom lessons can build on those real world experiences of science in action. Trying to plan a meaningful lesson for such a compact amount of time is quite challenging, since that time also includes students adjusting to their new surroundings and comprehend their new “classroom.” To best utilize their short trip, I designed an applied science lesson that would function as a community service project: redesigning one of our garden plots into a pollinator garden.
I have been looking for the perfect opportunity to teach with gardening since I came out to the island in June. My own graduate research focused on gardening as a teaching method, as gardens themselves are a fascinating intersection of art, science, history, and culture all at once, to name only a few disciplines. I’m personally interested in gardens as classrooms because the act of gardening makes textbook concepts tangible, accessible, and delightful.
Fryeburg’s trip was built around phenology, the study of cyclic changes over time, or as the National Phenology Network so aptly describes, the study of “Nature’s calendar - when cherry trees bloom, when a robin builds its nest, and when leaves turn color in the fall.” The goal of getting their hands literally in the dirt was to directly apply their understandings of species interdependence and various changes that occur over the course of an organism’s life. We discussed how animals, plants, bacteria, and even fungi all interact and depend on each other in order to survive, and how small changes in climate can have drastic impacts.
It’s not exactly possible to study all of the changes that occur throughout the seasons or throughout an organism’s entire life just within 24 hours. Instead, we examined the snapshot of changes happening within the first few days of autumn. We went for a hike around the perimeter of the island, taking note of and sketching the various phenophases of plants, animals, and fungi that we saw along the way. The beginning of autumn is actually a fantastic time to discuss cyclic changes: the leaves on our few deciduous trees are starting to change and fall, flowers are blooming for the last time or releasing their seeds, and the sun makes its way quickly across the sky to set late in the afternoon.
One of the easiest interdependence networks to think about takes place within a garden and is one with which we are all familiar: FOOD! Many different living and nonliving factors contribute to the food that ends up on our plates every day. We concluded our hike at one of the island’s garden plots to harvest plants in their “reproductive” phenophases so that we could enjoy them for dinner. We made a huge delicious salad, a buttery roasted spaghetti squash, and fresh pressed apple cider with Hurricane’s own apples (!), all of which were perfect accompaniments for our sunset picnic.
The next morning, we reviewed the various organisms we spotted on our hike around the island. We also noted a very important organism we noticed in the process of gathering some of the season’s last tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and leafy greens the previous day: bumblebees! Bumblebees are part of a larger group of organisms known as pollinators, which make more than 75% of the world’s food possible. However, many manmade factors threaten pollinator species with extinction, including intensive industrial agricultural practices and widespread pesticide use. The purpose of our garden design was to provide food for the island’s pollinators with plants that would bloom throughout the year.
The students cross-referenced regional pollinator guides with seed packets to create an excellent, diverse planting plan with staggered blooms. With shovels in hand, we took a short hike to the south end of the island to measure the proposed plot. I’ve had my eye on this plot since June, as a lot of weeds and a very proud catmint plant dominate (and underutilize) the space. Once we returned to the classroom, the students broke up into groups to finish our seasonal planting plan, and to create a garden map of the plants they intended to use based on a sample map developed by the Portland Pollinator Partnership.
What can we actually accomplish during a 24 hour trip that resonates with the students? It turns out quite a lot! It was exciting to watch students with different levels of gardening experience and cultural knowledge collaborate to create such a comprehensive plan. The students had a blast experiencing environmental biology so directly, from our encounters with different organisms around the island to tasting the bounty that a long growing season provides (with help from our amazing pollinators)!. This program ended up being a dream come true for me, as I have spent the last couple years of my life examining the power of learning that exists within gardens. Although we didn’t actually get seeds in the ground, this was an incredible first step towards making the island more pollinator friendly while participating in larger discourses of sustainability.
How do we teach leadership? Is this a skill that can be taught? These are questions we have tumbled around throughout the summer with each group that has visited. We recently hosted students from Deer Isle- Stonington, our last high school program of the season. Their high school features a unique “Pathways” program, in which students choose to focus on either arts or marine science and take classes that relate specifically to those topics. The Pathways program also emphasizes student self-directedness and collaboration among their peers. As educators, Rachel and I were really excited that a school provides such an opportunity for students to be the drivers of their own education. The majority of these students were freshmen and just beginning their own Pathways. Their trip to Hurricane was an opportunity to build cohesiveness within and across the Pathways groups. When they stepped off the boat, we could tell these students were ready to make the most of their brief, two day visit to Hurricane Island.
Rock climbing was the first team challenge. Students rotated through the roles of climber, belayer, and backup belayer. Even in the moments when students were not actively belaying or climbing, they encouraged their peers and provided suggestions regarding route options. Some students reached the top of the quarry facade numerous times on numerous courses, and all students made it to the first ledge of the rock wall, a group goal that was set midway through the climbing session. For me, the most exciting part of the climbing session was seeing students tackle the first ledge to meet the group goal, and then continue up the wall of their own accord. Another standout moment was seeing one student make it up a tricky ledge, after nearly 20 minutes of struggling, exploring, and thoughts of quitting. That student overcame the challenging part of the wall thanks to his own persistence and patience, coupled with encouragement from his peers. Later, this same climber verbally guided another student over the wall, sharing route options and confidence in his peer.
After a snack break and a tarp flip challenge as a warm-up, we set out for some fun team-building challenges. “Research rover” is a competition in which teams direct their blindfolded teammate (the rover) towards an object (marine debris). Each round is more difficult as fewer commands are permitted. “Looker, runner, builder” is a game in which teams of three delegate themselves to one of the three roles. The goal is to construct a statue that replicates one that only the “looker” can see. The runner relays instructions from the “looker” to the “builder” regarding the construction of the statue. These were a few of the games that brought out great moments of laughter and growth, ultimately preparing students for their bigger challenge the next morning.
On their second and final day, Pathways students were ready for the task with the highest stakes: the raft challenge! Not only were Arts Pathways students competing against their Marine Pathways counterparts, but their teachers were observing their collaboration styles to give them feedback. Both Hurricane staff and program participants alike love this challenge; it’s a great opportunity for students to practice design, real time problem-solving, working as a team, and incorporating individual strengths, while making a literal splash and learning from failure. Each team made its way across the ice pond one way or another. We celebrated their perseverance and hard work by jumping off the pier into the ocean at low tide.
With each group that comes to the island, we aim to ensure that the trip is as meaningful as possible. This becomes challenging with school programs that are only 24 hours long, especially when we are accustomed to delivering week-long programs in the summer. As Rachel addressed in a previous blog about working with Fryeburg [hyperlink?], how much can we accomplish in 24 hours? We think part of the success of our programs is the power of the place the students are in. Even though these students live on an island, Hurricane permits them to escape from phones and the goings on at school, home, or even at a job in order to really focus on their personal and group goals. For Pathways students, their time on Hurricane Island allowed them to contextualize their learning within their chosen “path” within the journey ahead. It’s always exciting to be with students at the beginning of their school year as they are in the process of setting intentions and reflecting on who they want to become. We love that students and teachers continue to choose Hurricane as their site for such growth!