School & District Management Photo Essay

Transitioning From Island Life to an Inland High School

By Kristen McNicholas — April 10, 2017 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Dominique Hessert, a senior at the Rochester Institute of Technology, documented the story of Connor Maxcy, a student at a one-room schoolhouse on Isle au Haut in Maine, as part of her senior capstone project. Over the course of a year, she documented Maxcy’s experience as a student on a small island moving inland to attend high school. The video, images, and writing are all by Hessert. Watch the full video here: Finding Home from Dominique Hessert on Vimeo.

Connor Maxcy in Surry, Maine.

A century ago, 200 of the 3,000 islands spread along Maine’s coast were fishing communities. Today, only 14 of the islands are inhabited year round. Isle au Haut remains one of these communities with a current population of 30 year round residents. The difficulty of this remote lifestyle contributes to continuing declines in the island’s population. Unless one is a fisherman, surviving financially has proven to be difficult, while the reality of raising a family presents its own set of issues: The only source of education is a K-8 one-room school-house. When students approach 8th grade graduation, they have a decision to make:

  1. Move off the island to attend high school.
  2. Commute every day on the 40-minute mailboat to attend high school on the mainland.
  3. Attend boarding school.
Connor Maxcy works on a project during the school day last June at the Isle au Haut school.

Connor Maxcy is one of the two 8th grade students in the 2016 Isle au Haut school graduating class. In June 2016, Connor finished his last semester of schooling on Isle au Haut with the only other student attending the school. Unable to live with his father, who is a fisherman and frequently away, Connor made the decision to move in with a couple who have played surrogate grandparents to Connor since he was born, Linda Greenlaw and Steve Wessel. Linda’s knowledge from being the only female swordfishing boat captain on the East Coast of the United States blends well with Connor’s passion and deep connection with the outdoors. Linda and Steve’s large brown house sits across the street from Perry’s Bay in Surry, 10 minutes from George Stevens Academy, a private high school where Connor has chosen to attend high school.

Connor Maxcy works on a project during the school day last June at the Isle au Haut school.

One week before his 8th grade graduation, Connor’s goal for after high school was to be a fisherman. After a summer living with Linda and Steve and one day in a high school of 300 kids, Connor’s goal has shifted. “I’m looking forward to these four years of high school and then college,” said Connor, “I asked a few of my dad’s friends what they’d do differently if they could change anything, and they said they’d go to Maine Maritime Academy, get a degree. I’m gonna go ahead and try to do that.”

Connor and his teachers, Paula Greatorex and Lisa Turner, Skype with the other island schools during the last day of school in June, 2016. Skype gives the students an opportunity to socialize with other students outside their school.

It’s November 22, and a sheer layer of white barely covers the patches of light brown grass spread around the dock in Stonington, located on the southern portion of Deer Isle, Maine. Connor hops out of the car as his guardian, Linda Greenlaw, wishes him a happy Thanksgiving while handing him his duffel bag. Connor had arranged to spend his Thanksgiving break with his best friends, Michael and Andrew Barter and their family. Paula Greatorex, Connor’s middle school teacher, offers him a welcoming hug as Connor climbs onto the deck of the Mink, exchanging excited conversation with Captains Garrett and Tracey. As the Mink approaches the island, Connor’s gaze shifted to the houses perched on Isle au Haut’s rocky coast. He takes a deep breath than says to his childhood teacher, “Finally, I’m home.”

When Connor was on the island, he couldn’t see himself leaving. Some leave, and can’t imagine coming back. Isle au Haut offers meaning to its residents in different ways, but there is one constant. Connor, a 14-year-old boy who spent his childhood couch surfing and hunting his meals while his father left for weeks at a time, still found family on the island. Isle au Haut offered him a unique freedom that gave him a chance at survival while providing him with a sense of family that mainland lifestyle couldn’t provide. On Connor’s journey, he discovered the intoxicating magic bringing residents back to Isle au Haut: a sense of famil

Paula Greatorex, Kathie Fiveash and Connor Maxcy (left to right) look for birds during the school day last June. Kathie, an ecologist, tries to bring the students out birding a few times a year.

Related Tags:

A version of this article first appeared in the Full Frame blog.

Events

Special Education Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table - Special Education: Proven Interventions for Academic Success
Special education should be a launchpad, not a label. Join the conversation on how schools can better support ALL students.
Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
STEM Fusion: Empowering K-12 Education through Interdisciplinary Integration
Join our webinar to learn how integrating STEM with other subjects can revolutionize K-12 education & prepare students for the future.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion 'I Don't Know What to Do': Facing Today's Education Leadership Challenges
Here are three concrete steps for getting ahead of controversies and creating a supportive learning environment for every student.
Jennifer Perry Cheatham & Bonnie Lo
5 min read
A leader encourages a large group of people across a bridge made of pencils. Proactive leadership.
Raul Arias for Education Week
School & District Management Who Trains the Trainers in the ‘Science of Reading?’
How three districts help their principals learn, practice, and sustain the “science of reading” implementation in their schools.
5 min read
First grader Geniss Gibbs practices reading skills at Eastern Elementary School in Washington, N.C., on May 23, 2022.
First grader Geniss Gibbs practices reading skills at Eastern Elementary School in Washington, N.C., on May 23, 2022.
Kate Medley for Education Week
School & District Management Photos Six Years After Parkland Tragedy, Crews Demolish a Painful Reminder
The school building in Florida where a gunman killed 17 people is being pulled down. Victims' families have toured the site with lawmakers to push for change.
4 min read
Students, teachers, victims' families and passersby watch, Friday, June 14, 2024, as crews start the demolition of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School building where 17 people died in the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. Officials plan to complete the weeks-long project before the school's 3,300 students return in August from summer vacation.
Students, teachers, and victims' families are among those watching on June 14, 2024, as crews start the demolition of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School building in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people died in the 2018 mass shooting. Officials plan to complete the weeks-long project before students return from summer vacation.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
School & District Management Download 'Science of Reading' Learning Walks: 4 Things for Principals to Look For
An instructional guide for school leaders to help implement shifts in reading practices.
1 min read
Photograph of a Black male teacher in the classroom with clipboard observing elementary students.
E+