Student from all of Maine’s one-room schools gather on Matinicus Island

By Eva Murray | Oct 09, 2011
Photo by: Eva Murray Emma Van Dyne bakes blueberry cake.

The people of Matinicus Island hosted students and teachers from every one-room school in the state to our good food, starry skies, sandy beaches, music and art, and beautifully renovated K-8 schoolhouse, Sept. 28-30. By the way, yes, we would like more people to think of those things when they consider Matinicus Island.

Children from Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, Monhegan, Cliff Island and the Cranberries, along with teachers and a few parents, rose in the wee dark hours of Tuesday morning on their respective islands to catch Casco Bay Lines ferries, local mail boats and the Maine Sea Coast Mission vessel Sunbeam for the potentially arduous trip to Matinicus.

Those coming from Cliff and Monhegan drove from their particular mainland landing points to Rockland and then boarded Captain Jim Kalloch’s Jackie Renee for the 23-mile trip to Matinicus. The Sunbeam collected the folks from the Cranberries, Frenchboro and Isle au Haut, and admittedly, it was a bit rough out there. By time they all arrived at noon on Tuesday, it had already seemed like a long day, but the fun was just beginning.

For something like 20 years, students and teachers of Maine’s one-room island schools have come together for an annual field day. We call this combined camp-out, potluck, reunion, arts festival, ruckus and jamboree “the Inter-Island Event.”

Island adults now in graduate school or captains of their own lobster boats remember making friends with children from the other islands in their day, kids with whom they could often quickly rekindle a friendship after not having seen each other since the previous year’s inter-island gathering.

Often, one or another island group has been unable to attend due to weather or another transportation hitch. Cliff Island is new to the group and we welcome our Casco Bay one-room school buddies with open arms. These days, with the collaborative teaching that takes place among some of the island schools, the multi-island, curriculum-related field trips, and the advanced telecommunications options available, Maine’s outer-island students see each other a bit more frequently, but there is still nothing to cement a relationship like a good hard game of Capture the Flag.

It has become something of a tradition on fair Matinicus Isle to go ahead and attempt some project once in a while in the face of those sensible voices who reiterate that, “it’s never going to work!” My neighbors are, in a sense, the Stone Soup Committee if ever there was one.  Do you recall the story of Stone Soup? A couple of hungry travelers gradually convince a bunch of resistant, parsimonious villagers to each share a small bit of their resources until a feast is constructed for all with nobody going out of pocket much.  An onion here, a carrot there, and eventually, everybody lets down their guard and participates.

Despite logistical challenges that began to resemble trying to change the spark plugs on the International Space Station, the group managed for the first time ever to bring the Inter-Island Event to far-off Matinicus. This gathering takes place on a different island each year, in a rotation, but Matinicus had never tried to host it before due to our lack of guaranteed transportation, lack of any large community building, and a scarcity of adults who would be able to pull it all together. I’ll confess, at first I wasn’t entirely sure this would work, either.

This time, Natalie, our senior school board member and chief school booster; Anne, inter-island project organizer extraordinaire, 25 hours a day; Robin, “just tell me what you need done and get out of the way” ed-tech and strong back; and Samantha, single-handed potluck supper executive chef like you wouldn’t believe, made “the impossible” happen just beautifully. Talk about a Stone Soup Committee; we all had a wonderful time, although the aforementioned deserve a nice long nap!

Island artists, hobbyists and ballplayers led workshops and breakout groups so that the students could select from a menu of activities. Music teacher and drummer Tom held a drumming and rhythm-band session which included lots of empty five-gallon oil buckets. There was plenty of art including Maury’s mural-painting on the side of the school’s storage shed. Some went to the beach to build sand castles, and I had 10 people in my kitchen at one point each baking their own blueberry cake for the potluck supper (We found ourselves eating blueberry cake for every meal thereafter, too. Probably some of Maine’s islanders can go a long time now without seeing another piece of blueberry cake).

The scheduled kickball game, to be led by, among others, Jessie the Monhegan teacher (kickball being a major Monhegan tradition), devolved into another round of Capture the Flag, I heard, for the lack of a decent ball. Oh, well.

After the potluck supper in the church basement, it was time for the talent show upstairs. The audience enjoyed some great singing and dance acts, a couple of hilarious skits, such as Death-Defying Waltz and a rousing round of Bible-Jumping, a fire-safety talk from the smallest participant, a three or four-year old from Cliff Island, and then Matinicus’ own little Max brought the house down with his hula-hoop act. We could only come up with three hoops for him at show time but he assured us later, “I can do five while drinking a glass of water.” I believe it. I’ve seen him.

The still, starry night of Sept. 28 made for exceptionally nice camping, and a couple of lucky folks saw some shooting stars. Even the older students, who thought they’d want to be awake far later than their littler classmates, found themselves dozing off early. No luck for stargazing the second night, but such is Maine’s weather.

The next day, after a morning of hikes, crafts, everybody signing each others’ multi-island school yearbook — a stroke of genius on somebody’s part — more Capture the Flag, clearly an inter-island tradition, and another bite of the ubiquitous blueberry cake, the younger students piled aboard the Sunbeam and the Jackie Renee to start their long, perhaps complex, trips home. Middle-school students and a few teachers remained to hold planning meetings about science and social studies projects for the forthcoming year.

Many thanks are due Captain Kalloch, the crew of the Sunbeam, all the cooks, and everybody who did the hundreds of behind-the-scenes little things required to make this thing come together. We’ll never again say “We can’t host something like that on Matinicus.”

One wonders whether some of the older lobstermen of this bay, who are notoriously tribal in their sensitivities and anxious in their business dealings, might have benefited from a few rounds of inter-island Capture the Flag when they were young.


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