School Collaboration Enhances Education

CRANBERRY ISLES — Classes may be winding down for summer, but teachers on Islesford and three of Maine’s other outer islands have come up with a novel way to support each other and teach a dwindling number of students.

They hope this new technique will help save their schools and, in turn, their year-round island communities.


They have started using videoconferencing and other interactive technologies to team-teach and give their students the benefits of learning and working in groups of more than two or three.

This spring, Islesford Elementary teacher Lindsay Eysnogle and her three middle school students are having regular writing classes with Monhegan Island School teacher Jessie Campbell and her two older students.

“For the kids in my class, who spend so much time together that they may as well be brothers and sisters, to have two additional kids just opens up a whole new way of working,” Ms. Eysnogle said. “I thought it was going to take a while for the kids to actually be able to learn and for us to get our educational goals accomplished, but they were instantly into it. They love it and they take it very seriously, maybe because they are so eager to have other kids to work with.”

With the help of grants from the Maine Community Foundation, the teachers on Islesford, Monhegan, Matinicus and Isle au Haut have formed the Inter-Island Teaching and Learning Collaboration. Among the purposes of the collaboration are to provide professional support for island teachers, including a mentoring program for new teachers, and to develop aligned curricula.

Ms. Eysnogle said that for some island schools, the curriculum consists only of a list of topics they are supposed to be teaching, while others have very highly developed curricula aligned with state standards.

“But all of us are in the same boat when it comes to figuring out how to teach the topics and meet the standards,” she said. “So we have begun creating an aligned curriculum that will be web-based so that we will all be teaching the same thing at the same time. That will allow us to collaborate in developing lessons and units, and it will allow our students to work together on projects.”

Donna Isaacs, who teaches the five younger students at the Islesford school, said, “The fact that we will all be studying the same topics at the same time is kind of a no-brainer, but it’s never happened before. It’s pretty exciting.”

Rob Liebow, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, describes the inter-island teacher collaboration as a “unique and special opportunity.”

“On isolated islands, it’s hard for teachers to connect with each other and for students to connect with their peers,” he said. “This aims to get those kids as close to a level playing field as possible. It’s awesome.”

The Inter-Island Teaching and Learning Collaboration is an outgrowth of the Critical Friends Group, which the island teachers started in 2008 to foster professional development and provide mutual support.

Ms. Isaacs said initiatives such as these have the potential to save island schools. In fact, she said, the inter-island collaboration has already helped keep the Monhegan school open, at least for now.

“The teacher there was looking at having perhaps only two students next year and the very real possibility that her school would be closed,” Ms. Isaacs said. “Because of this initiative, that island has decided to keep the school open and see how it goes.”

She said the closing of an island’s school is a death knell for it’s year-round population.

“Island communities survive based on the viability of their schools,” she said. “If there is a school, the winter population survives. If not, it dies. It has happened on many islands, so when our numbers start to dwindle, it’s very scary.”

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