Guest blog post by Olga Feingold, Program Director, Thompson Island Outward Bound
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!