Island Updates

Education Symposium at TIOBEC: Closing the Opportunity Gap

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 and Carol with their table at the Education Conversation on Tuesday morning (Photo courtesy of Jaclyn Parks)

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.

Samantha Lyon leads Peter and Carol's table in a breakout session. My table is in the background (Photo courtesy of Jaclyn Parks)

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.

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