Final Island School Firsts

Dale Lattanzio:

During the first week of my semester at The Island School there have been a variety of occasions when I have felt tired, excited, overwhelmed, dirty, intrigued, exuberant, and challenged. In one week I have Kayaked about fifteen miles, become scuba certified, taken part in my first run swim, danced while doing dishes, and received more bug bites than I thought possible. This first week has been very emotional. Being cut off from all outside contact has been challenging, yet helpful for me to dig deeper into the lives of my new peers. Despite all these magical experiences there was one moment where I truly felt dumbfounded. During our three-day kayak trip we visited a blue hole. I am truly amazed by all marine life; the ocean is my passion. When I see fish in little classroom aquariums I get excited, so you cannot fathom my delight and enthusiasm during our many dives and snorkels. When I snorkeled over the edge of the blue hole the gaping cliff immediately grasped my undivided interest. Until this point I had only dreamt of seeing an offshore ledge or anything of such vast underwater structure. As the group explored the vast biodiversity surrounding us, the “ledge” that towered the reefs surrounded by its walls captivated me. After repeated free dives I finally managed to get low enough to see under the ledge and into the cavern that it created. As I descended into the dark blue wonderland I periodically equalized my ears. Suddenly my heart stopped, I felt as it my heart had been squeezed like a sponge. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, a school of large jack crevalles circled below me. Before I could comprehend my bursting emotions my burning lungs forced me to resurface. I was panting at the surface in disbelief. Had I just seen my first jack? Although to many this may seem like just another fish, I was perplexed. A powerful fighter, jacks are known as a game fish with little table fare. Their elegance and beauty as a predator has always captivated me; I couldn’t believe that they were swimming below me as I caught my breath. I free dove again and again taking in their every move. I couldn’t believe that after years of dreaming (literally) about these marvelous creatures, I had finally experienced their grace first hand. These kinds of experienced are what have made The Island School such an inspirational educational institution for all its students. I am looking forward to my further explorations into the marine life that encompass me.

Ella Hartshorn:

This weekend we went on a three-day kayak trip. I have kayaked before and I have camped, but never together. What was really new for me however was making a fire with completely foreign and new material. I consider myself somewhat of a fire master and making fires are my favorite part of camping trips. If I have matches, a lighter, or some other type of fire starter I can make a smoking fire (pun intended.) That’s definitely something I’m proud of because I have never failed to make a fire, or save some else’s fire from going out. However this weekend, I failed miserably.

It all started with a rainstorm, so everything we were working with was wet, which is nothing new as I have made fires with wet wood before. Along with wet wood, it was super windy and our matches kept blowing out, so we spent some time building a large fire pit. We then spent the first twenty minutes unsuccessfully trying to light pine needles and dead palm branches. Meanwhile, our accompanying faculty advisors (Brady and Vienna,) had already made their fire and were cooking their dinner; they offered help, but of course we wanted none of that. We spent fifteen minutes shredding wood shavings and crumpling palm hairs into a very dry nest for our fire to start. When that didn’t work we consented to use a lighter. Finally the shredded palms caught fire; Duncan and I leaned down to blow on the baby flame and we succeeded in snuffing out the only flame we had managed to make the entire night. At this point Brady asked again if we needed help and everyone said yes except for me. When it comes to challenging tasks especially ones that involve fire I become very prideful and I don’t like to accept help. So Brady let us continue to struggle with the fire and by us I mean just me, because everyone else wanted to eat dinner before midnight. So after about an hour of struggling to make this stupid fire that should have taken me five minutes, Brady stepped in because a storm was coming and she made a fire in about two seconds.

I’m not sure if I will ever forgive Brady. At that point I would have rather stayed up all night so I could make a fire that had now become a personal battle. However, I think the rest of my kayak group wanted to eat dinner before it became impossible. I was feeling a little resentful, kind of like I had just lost a game, but then Brady told me she hoped it was okay that she had helped make the fire.  After she said that it made me realize that she did understand the seriousness of this situation and of the battle I had just lost, and that in her own and possibly intended way had told me it was okay to ask for help and that it wouldn’t be viewed as a surrender. I know I have only been here a week but I feel like The Island School has already helped me to become a more mature person with the ability to ask for help, because every victor has had a little help somewhere along the road.

Elsa Dickenson Davis:

Despite living along the Appalachian trail, camping is something that I am not very familiar with, so the nights of my three day kayak trip were filled with very new experiences for me. I’d slept in tents before, but never on the beach and definitely not in the middle of a lightning storm. It was especially new to me to have to figure out what to do in a given predicament and spring into action when the storm hit. We managed to collect all of our belongings, tie everything down and get into proper position in our tents, but it was definitely a little jarring.

As scary as the storm was, it ended up being really fun in my tent and I got to know all the girls that were with me a lot better, so I am very thankful. It was actually pretty fun to be able to experience the storm once I realized for myself that nothing bad was going to happen, but this took a little while. Getting myself worked up about insignificant things is something that I do probably too often, so being able to just stay calm through the storm was a really good thing for me. I can’t lie that it wasn’t terrifying, because it did make my heart leap every time the sky illuminated, but it also began to excite me once I had gotten over the original shock of it.

The kayak trip in all was one of my very first personal learning experiences here at The Island School. I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I imagined I would, especially the unpredictable weather and uncomfortable sleeping situations.

Gretchen Meyer:

The sun was just setting a pinkish tone in the sky; It was 6:30 A.M, my first morning at The Island School. Right as I dove into the fresh salty water, I was immediately surrounded by species that I’ve never seen before. A sea cucumber, for example, an organism used for cleaning dirty sand and emptying out clean sand. It was amazing to learn about all of these different species, along with being able to actually hold and observe them. This was an incredible moment for me, because I am a visual learner. Back home, I am used to learning by sitting in a classroom— here at The Island School, I am able to touch, see, smell and experience what I am learning. This hands on learning, makes me conscious of the effects that I have on the environment and gives me a greater appreciation for our world. It’s crazy that I can honestly say that I have never felt more in my element, and to think that I have only been here for seven days…

Kiley Knott:

Bright and early on our third morning at The Island School we went for a run-swim. I’d heard a lot about these and how difficult they were. I had my new water shoes all ready to go and had some butterflies before morning circle. The actual course of the run-swim isn’t in a triathlon style, rather a constant switching back and forth from sand to sea and back again. Because The Island School is located very near the southern most tip of Eleuthera, the beach bends in a wave like pattern leaving short “cuts” for us to swim through before running on to the next one. Now however challenging that may sound, it gets even more so. Between almost any given run or swim we had another smaller exercise while waited for the remainder of the group to catch up. Anything from using rocks as weights to squats to running around waving our arms in circles was fair game. By the fourth cut I was struggling, and a very quick swimming buddy kept me pushing forward. We then reached a cement wall. It became immediately obvious that we would be expected to climb the whole six feet of rock. But first we had to do a wall sit and I was beginning to get nervous again after having settled into a pattern. Having weak little arms I knew it was not going to be an easy task. Soon enough, people began scaling the wall, some with apparent ease and others with a little work before making the final push over the ledge. As the numbers of us in the water dwindled, I began to make my move. I grabbed the ledge and attempted to push up the vertical wall. Gravity made it clear however that I didn’t have the strength for this yet. The faculty member in charge of our group, John, came over to give me a knee to stand on. I was embarrassed to note that even still I could not make it up the wall. Eventually two saviors came over and pulled me up that wall. I am still grateful to them for that because even though my cheeks were burning, I mustered the strength to finish out that run-swim. I know in the future people might not be there to help me over that wall or any other obstacle I will face in my academic or athletic life, and that I will need to figure out a way for myself. I feel like this will happen throughout my entire experience here. I won’t always have the strengths needed to overcome challenges by myself, but hopefully, with the help and support of the community the first few tries, I can eventually face these difficulties head-on and make it over that wall each and every time.

Liah Burbridge:

Hi! My name is Liah, I’ll be writing about a new experience I’ve encountered here at The Island School.  This certain experience that impacted me the most so far would have to be learning how to Scuba dive.  Honestly, Scuba diving has to be the coolest thing I have ever done. I wish I had learned years ago, that is how extraordinary it is. The first breath that I inhaled underwater felt as though I had entered a new realm full of beautiful multicolored marine animals of all shapes and sizes.  It was a whole new world.  My dive instructor is Chris Maxey and he named our group the aquanauts, like astronauts, and the name fits perfectly.  Barely any of the world’s oceans have been explored so it really is like entering a whole new planet. It is the most beautiful and peaceful place on Earth that I have found.

The most fascinating experience I was so lucky to have been able to do would have to be diving in the “Saddle.”  The Saddle is a man-made dredge hole that drops off then comes back up, then drops off so it takes the shape of a saddle.  We had to ride bikes to get there and spent most of the day learning and practicing our newly achieved skills, then we accomplished our first open water dive.  This dive was to a depth of about thirty-five feet.  It was magnificent!  My favorite part of it would have to be when our group came to a “The Wall.”  The Wall was the side of the dredging, but it did not look at all like that anymore, it was enveloped in coral.  Within the coral were little holes where my dive buddy and I encountered Nassau Groupers, Snapper, and many beautiful neon fish.  Just the sight of this thirty-foot wall of coral from the bottom of the ocean was remarkable. It really makes you self-reflective to see how little you are compared to the colossal ocean, and it was touching to swim away while comparing the divers to the huge wall.  The moment was cut short however when I noticed that there was a plastic bottle and fishing line blanketing a coral head on my way back to the dive boat.  This made me deeply ponder how enormous our impact as humans is on this beautiful environment that we love and value so much.  This experience taught me so much and I’ve learned so much already at The Island School.  This is truly a life-changing place.

Liam Macartney:

During my first week at The Island School, we embarked on a three-day kayak trip. Throughout this trip I had the chance to do some things I had never done before, one of which included free diving into a blue hole. The journey there was very strenuous and took the better part of three hours, but when we arrived, my group was rearing to go. We stepped into the warmth of the Bahamian waters and immediately started to swim for the hole, which was more or less fifty yards off shore. As we swam through the crystal clear waters, the marine life was staggeringly beautiful. Eagle rays, assortments of fishes, and even a few crabs and lobsters roamed the sea floor and the crevices that perforated the ground. Then it appeared; from the shallow fifteen-foot deep waters, a sheer drop-off to a minimum of forty feet. The entire ecosystem changed; it was amazing. I managed to snap multiple pictures of myself and the people around me free diving into the deep blue waters. Massive fish swam under me as I glided through the water to a depth that was sufficient for me. It was an awesome time. Unfortunately, as soon as we got into the experience, it was cut short by a storm that passed through. My group was at the hole for twenty minutes. Paddling three hours for a twenty minute swim felt pointless to me at the time and, I will admit, I was becoming increasingly aggravated at the entire situation. But looking back now, I cherish the experience and I wish to return in the near future, but maybe this time we could travel on a boat instead!

Sam Jensen:

The three-day kayak was the first time I had ever camped. By camping, I mean tents, bond-fire, stargazing, the whole ordeal. I had never shared such a small claustrophobic space with 4 other people, however I had never gotten so close to people so fast. The first day we got there, we set up tents and organized our gear. We all met at the beach and began making dinner. We all were sitting around the fire, sharing the jobs, talking, laughing, watching the sun slowly set behind the horizon, and watching the stars come out. It is kind of crazy what throwing together 12 people that don’t know each other for three days can do. I got to know each of them in a new way that I wouldn’t have been able to without this camping trip. After it got dark, we played campfire games and sang songs and looked at the stars. I had never been in a place where the stars looked so beautiful and bright. We went back to our tents and talked until we fell asleep. The next morning we woke when the sun woke us up and went to the beach for breakfast. Then we set up the kayaks and set off for a new adventure. We kayaked through the crystal clear water with the hot Bahamian sun beating down on us, until we stopped at a beach for lunch and a snorkel. Cheese and crackers never tasted so good. We went into the water and learned how to free dive, but when we were just about to try a free dive into the blue hole we were near, the sky lit up with lighting and the thunder followed soon after. We quickly swam out, and had to crouch in what is called “lightening position” for about 10 minutes while we got down poured on. We were all pretty disappointed, but we knew that not everything goes according to plan, and we made the best of it. We kayaked on the way back, getting to know people I had not really talked to. We got back to the beach and made yet another wonderful dinner together. We had just finished when the biggest storm hit. We sprinted back to the comfort of our tent, and we sat in there watching it light up the entire tent and felt the rain come through the holes in the tent. We fell asleep talking and telling stories, and woke up to the sun coming through the tent. The storm had blown over and the sky was almost a perfect blue. We sat in the knee height ocean water until it was time to pack up and head back. When we got back to The Island School, we saw all the other people who had not been on our trip, and were able to take showers. The trip put everything in perspective. From clean clothes, to food, to showers. Putting things in perspective is important so you can see things in a new light and keep an open mind to things that might have previously seemed odd to you. Like camping for example, it was my first time camping and I was skeptical but keeping an open mind made me really enjoy the trip.

Krissy Truesdale:

After a long day at sea, fighting waves and other colliding kayaks, most anyone would sleep easy that night. I, however, slept like an island goddess. While setting up camp in the waning sunlight, our group quickly realized we were a tent short of fitting our eleven student and three faculty member crew. Luckily, some of us girls brought hammocks, so the squeeze and heat inside the tents were a bit less oppressive. After an evening relaxing with friends by the campfire, playing mafia and swapping stories of our stupid teenage antics, I was able to retreat to my own swinging bed, supported by two Casuarina trees and surrounded by a much needed bug net. Rocking back and forth, I stared up at flickering stars without any light pollution for miles. The Milky Way stretched from east to west as shooting stars and comets granted wishing opportunity aplenty. The Caribbean waves kissed the sand a few yards from my sleeping space as cicadas sang each other lullabies.

Rocking back and forth by the gentle sea breeze I was reminded of camping in Maine a few weeks before with my family and boyfriend. I wished we were looking at the same stars, but realized there would be no way they could ever see the sky I was enjoying from the city. I made a few wishes for them in their stead. There would be a time for bringing them along I remembered, but then was not it. Under the Bahamian stars, cooled by a breeze and reminded of new friends by the aroma of ashes wafting over, I prayed. I gave thanks, and asked for strength; getting through the highs and the lows of experiencing new adventures and acclimating to new homes. I prayed that while I was gone I would not forgotten, nor missed too much. I prayed to be able to rise to the challenges ahead.

I closed my eyes and meditated on the rhythmic push and pull of the ocean on the shore. Dreams took over, and weariness left through my blistering fingertips. Hammock rocking and sandy, I was cradled to sleep; but not before praying that it wouldn’t rain.

Cam Gordon:

Hello blog viewers, my name is Cam Gordon and I will be sharing a story about my first week experience at The Island School. Twas’ day four, Friday the 30th of August when K1 and K2 set out for their three-day kayak adventures whilst K3 and K4 stayed at the school for SCUBA certification courses. I was in the K2 group with eleven other kids, six girls and five boys (not including me). The trip itself was filled with excitement and lots of bugs. It was the first time I have camped alone on a beach and I am not going to lie, I was quite nervous. Setting off on the adventure, I was very worried about my sanitation and physical health due to eating and sleeping on the beach. Don’t worry, we all made it out alive without many hiccups besides more bug bites than you can count.

Anyways, my real story, not just the background information, begins now. It was the third and final day of our kayak trip and also happened to be my birthday. I woke up in the morning having gotten very little sleep due to the fact that my tent might as well have been a sauna it was so hot. The group indulged themselves in some nice sand castle birthday cake before getting ready to set out on the day’s journey. As I put some pots and pans in the front of my kayak storage area, I noticed something moving around in one of the pots. Being the curious young adolescent that I am, I decided it was a good idea to investigate this creature further. Now, there are not many things that I am afraid of, but the one thing, the absolute one thing that scares the life out of me is spiders. I hate spiders. And of course, inside my kayak was not only a spider, but a massive, hairy, slimy tarantula. Tarantulas are beyond terrifying. They are one of the worst, if not the worst animal to ever exist.  As soon as I saw this demon I threw down the pot in the sand and screamed. It was not as much of a scream as I loud, HOLY POOP, but anyways, it was quite enough to get everyone’s attention. All eleven other kids as well as the three faculty rushed over and awed at the tarantula. I mean these things are suppose to be rare, Jai (the medical doctor dude) had said only a couple days back that there were very few tarantulas and we probably wouldn’t see any in our 100 days here. After the arachnid was properly disposed of, we started kayaking back to campus. I’m not sure if any of you have ever had this feeling before, but when something like this happens, every single brush on your leg, every single time the wind blows slightly, every shift in the sand, every drop of water swishing in the kayak, you think it’s a tarantula. For the hour and half kayak trip back (my muscles are still sore by the way), I was quite paranoid.

The goal of this blog is not to scare parents about how awful it is here or to dissuade future kids from coming to The Island School; it was more just to tell you one experience that I had. I made it back to campus eventually without another tarantula interaction, and wow, I seriously hope I don’t have another interaction with another one. Nonetheless, I am having a fantastic time here and could not have asked for a better first week!

Maya Sands Bliss:

I have been camping a plethora of times during my life, in my back yard, at campsites in state forests, backpacking through the Adirondacks. Never before have I packed all of my belongings into a kayak and paddled through the ocean to camp on a deserted beach. Here at The Island School, I just returned from my first three-day kayak trip.

When I woke up on Friday morning, I packed two dry-bags the previous night and prepared myself for sun, bugs, and salty water. After breakfast, we dressed ourselves in the highest fashion, which consisted of rash guards, enormous sunhats with sunglasses and a bandana, our life jackets, and our spray skirts hoisted up above our wastes with the front tucked into our life vests. We packed our kayaks, heaved them into the water, and were off! Forming a diamond shape to stay together, we slowly but surely made our way six miles around the coast to a white sandy shoreline, where we docked and began the long process of unpacking.

The next two and a half days were some of the most interesting days of my life. I got to know the crazy, wonderful sides of eleven students that I may have not known otherwise. We snorkeled about once every two hours and made piles of sand dollars and collections of bottles and rings of bubbles. We worked together to cook some of the best food I have ever had camping, some of us collecting firewood, creating a dining room table, chopping onions, feeding each other so the cooks could keep cooking, sacrificing the hair on our fingers for delicious roasted peppers and toasted bread. We ventured out to a blue hole and when we had to make a change in plans because of a minor injury, everybody found a way to amuse themselves and chip in to help in any way they could. When a storm hit the second night and two of five tents were lifted off-site everyone pushed through with the support of fellow K1 group members. Although the bugs were worse than I could ever imagine, our clothes never dried, and we developed a nice layer of salt on our skin by the end, we always worked as a group and always made sure to have fun. We developed friendships that can only become better from here, and it was a great way to end our first week at The Island School.

Sophie Oches:

In the past week so much has gone on. The most overwhelming experience however was arriving in this completely different environment. It has been completely eye opening in every way and already, the way I see this place has changed. On our first day here the weather didn’t hold up for us, but the whole experience was so fun.

In the beginning flying alone and leaving parents was something I had never done, and saying goodbye for three whole months was so difficult. As my parents watched me from a distance, I could see them crying as I walked into security and strode on the plane to fly to my new home. I even found students who were in the same boat as I was and were taking the same flight into Nassau. If someone told me at the time that I was going to get so close with all of these students in less than twenty-four hours, I never would have believed them. I can’t believe it has already been a week and already I feel so close to this community. The residents here all smile and wave even if they don’t know you. They will have genuine conversations with you without even knowing your name and they will do anything to help their community.

Everyone came to The Island School feeling nervous and scared of what these three months would bring. Within the first day, these feelings all disappear and the new students come to accept that this is your home and you were chosen to be here and all you can do is have fun. No matter what you do, you will always have fun.

When we arrived here we were each given a placement book. In the first week I have now filled up almost half of the entire journal with the amazing things we experience each day. I hope to fill up at least two on this exciting adventure that has yet to begin.

Lexi Merison:

When I arrived at The Island School I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard all of the stories but the time had finally come when I had to make my own experience. Coming here I felt lost, alone, and scared. It was the first time I was completely alone. Once the small uncomfortable plane had touched down in the Rock Sound airport, I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I was surrounded by all the students that I would be spending the next three months with and had never felt so overwhelmed. I wanted to be back in the comfort of my own home but knew that there was no turning around. I struggled through the first few days trying to fly under the radar and out of anyone’s way. It was nerve wracking to be in a place where I knew no one, but as the days have slowly gone by I have started to realize why I am here and become more comfortable in this environment. Not only have I realized why I am here, but I also have come to understand that this is a once in a life time opportunity because its difficult, pushes you to do things you didn’t know you could, and the community you instantly become a part of when you enroll in The Island School.