This fall, 17 Bowdoin teaching minors boarded a ferry in Rockland to cross Penobscot Bay to spend 24 hours on Vinalhaven, a Maine island 12 miles off the coast. The students were visiting the island’s K-12 school as part of their studies on how to incorporate local culture and community into classroom lessons.
Maine is home to many unique communities, including its handful of island communities, most of which are dependent on the fishing industry and summer tourism. Some of the larger islands with year-round residents maintain K-12 or K-8 schools. These are often tiny, with well under 100 students. The K-12 school in Vinalhaven, which has a year-round population of 1,200, is the largest island school in Maine, with 200 students.
While conducting research on Vinalhaven in the late 1990s, Associate Professor of Education Nancy Jennings realized that these island schools could offer Bowdoin students the chance to observe how island educators teach subjects that both reflect and enhance their communities.
Six years ago, Bowdoin’s education department formalized a link with island schools through its Island Schools Project, which works as a cross-cultural exchange. Bowdoin teaching minors spend a night and a day on an island. After this stay, the island's high school students come to Bowdoin for an overnight.
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