When I updated my site design today, and added the picture of myself in the ocean in the Bahamas, it got me thinking about the Island School. My mom and I went to a teacher’s conference there last August, and it was a life changing experience. Island School is a self-sustaining school in Cape Eleuthera on the Island of Eleuthera, in the Bahamas. It took us three flights and a 2 hour car ride down Eleuthera’s only road to get there. The school makes all of its own electricity through solar and a wind turbine, heats water with solar energy, grows much of its own food hydroponically, raises pigs, composts, collects rainwater for drinking and other uses, has “poo poo gardens” to deal with human waste, builds furniture out of invasive species, builds artificial reefs to protect its own coastline, collects waste cooking oil from cruise ships to make biodiesel to run its cars and buses on, and oh yeah, they educate kids. The Island School’s curriculum is focused on place-based, experiential learning, which I try to incorporate into my Botany and Environmental Science classes. It just so happens that they have an awesome “place” to learn.
Their mission states:
The Island School is founded on the belief that young people,
given the right tools, can build anything.
And build, they do. In fact, many of the buildings and systems of the Island School were constructed by students. These projects allow students to permanently leave their mark at a place they love. Many students will return for internships in college or will go there for a summer to help build more, or help with the Teacher Conference. I would strongly recommend the Island School to students that care about the environment or enjoy nature and science, and to teachers that want to change their lives and teaching over the summer. I would like to someday return to the Island School, perhaps to visit my future children during a semester there.
OK, away from the ideals and back to the reality of living a sustainable lifestyle. It’s hard. But you get used to it. For one thing, there’s no air conditioning, which makes it hard to sleep at night because, first it’s hot, and second, there are bugs everywhere since the windows have to be left open. Also, you have to really try to conserve water. The drinking water is “air temperature” (read: HOT). You have to take “Navy Showers” which means turning on the water, getting wet, turning off water, soaping up/shampooing, turning on water to rinse, turning off water, conditioning hair, turning on water to rinse, turning off water, getting out of shower. I would estimate that the total amount of time that water ran while I took a shower was 2 minutes, because I have long hair. Try to replicate that at home! Oh, and in terms of toilets, “If it’s yellow let it mellow… etc.”
In terms of contact with the rest of the world, students are only allowed to use the phone once a week to call home. And the only internet access is for research, not email. I think that a lot of my students could use that cut off from technology. But it’s got to be hard to be away from home and not be able to talk to your parents. Fortunately, the same rules did not apply for the teacher conference, and my mom and I called home every night on her cell phone.
I have to say that the food was awesome. Very healthy and fresh. Certainly not resort food, but there was always plenty and you never felt guilty about eating it. Although when we did venture off campus, the first thing most teachers did was stop in a little store to buy warm soda and melted candy bars. We joked that we had escaped from fat camp. We also exercised every morning before breakfast, which I really enjoyed. It included snorkeling, running, swimming, yoga, and other interesting activities. Students there will also exercise 6 days a week in the morning, not to mention all the other activities they participate in throughout the day.
I loved learning about the sustainable systems, learning how to be a better teacher in the field, helping with ongoing projects like building artificial reefs, snorkeling, kayaking, learning about Bahamian culture, getting to know other like-minded teachers, and spending time in nature. Although it was tough to be away from Ed for 8 days and to be away from technology and luxuries like air conditioning and a long, hot bath, it was a lot of fun and definately changed the way that I look at the world. Below are a select few of the pictures from my experience. There are literally hundreds, so I had to pick and choose.
My mom and me snorkeling on the first day.
A classroom, great for interactive discussions on the environment or literature.
Artificial Reef construction.
Cliff jumping. Everyone who knows me knows that I am not the kind of person that jumps off cliffs. But a 60-something man jumped… so I had to. Right as I was about to jump, a spotted ray swam by and I had to wait for it to be clear. So awesome!
Our accomodations. This is the girls’ dorm. Note the solar panels on the roof.
Pam Maxey, Christian Henry, and Chris Maxey, founders of the Island School, fantastic hosts, and great people.
The Maxeys’ son, with lobsters he speared for our celebration on the beach the last night. Talk about local food! They also had two little girls that also speared some lobsters. What a great way to raise kids, with such a connection to their food and nature.
Yoga in the cafeteria/classroom/theatre/meeting place.
Enjoying the ocean on the last day.
Teacher Conference teachers, Island School teachers, and Lucky the Island School’s dog. I would imagine that Lucky helps ease being away from family as much as the staff does.
To learn more about the Island School, visit the website: www.islandschool.org.