For the past 4 years my husband and I have run a tiny one-room schoolhouse on an island off the coast of Maine. Having grown up in the area, it was a wonderful move for me to leave bush Alaska where I had been teaching on a remote island, back home to Maine. Another island?! I couldn't help but laugh. The schoolhouse is over 100 years old. You can see still the burns in the old wooden floor around where the woodstove used to sit. From the outside it looks nearly the same as it did a century ago. There is a sense of history and culture here that is easy to tap into since many of the children's own parents and grandparents went to school here. I felt immediately that this unique opportunity would allow us to create a sense of place like few other schools can offer.
This island is only nine miles around, with more than 2/3 of it being a protected nature preserve. With the woods at our backs and the ocean at our feet, this island is our oyster, from which many pearls can be gathered. Few weeks go by when we're not walking the trails, slogging through the bogs, watching the beaver build its lodge, examining otter tracks in the snow, or examining what effects the last big storm had on our beaches.
We also give back. We do yearly beach cleanups and wherever we go we naturally pick up garbage and recycle what we can. We are building picnic tables in math class to put down at our favorite gathering spot. Our community garden and composting program have helped bring a new independence and waste management to all residences. When you know a place like we do, you really want to do best by it, and leave it better than you find it.
The reason we can do all this is because we may as well be teaching back in the 50's out here. The parents are completely supportive and open to us leaving a note on the front door that says we're "on the trails behind the library". We actually have a form that all parents sign saying that the island is our classroom. That kind of freedom in education is SO rare and we are eternally grateful for both the trust and the encouragement that our community gives us. We climb trees. We play pond hockey. We go bushwhacking through the woods without a care about getting lost. We stop to examine decaying animals or dig for salamanders. In other words, we do just what all kids do when they find themselves out in nature: we play. And through our play, we learn.