Category Archives: Island School

New England Road Trip: The Island School Admissions Team is in Full Swing of Travel Season

Last week our admissions team, Taylor Hoffman (SP‘06), Maggie Nichols (F‘09), and Glenn Hartman-Mattson (Faculty‘14-15), visited high schools and colleges throughout New England! We spoke with prospective students and caught up with alumni throughout Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.


We went to Burr and Burton Academy and their Mountain Campus where we found a faculty alumnus from some of the first semesters on Eleuthera. Ben Freeman is now the Director of BBA’s Mountain Campus, a semester program focused on environmental education and sustainable living.

Ben Freeman and Taylor
Ben Freeman and Taylor


We then found a couple alums to have lunch with at Middlebury College!

Harrison Rohrer (F '13), Glenn, and Will Cembalest (SP '14)
Harrison Rohrer (F ’13), Glenn, and Will Cembalest (SP ’14)


For dinner we found Libby Schwab (F ‘14), Emily Peters (F ‘11), and Kyle Titsworth (SP ‘12) in Burlington, VT. All students at UVM, we loved talking with them so much that we didn’t have time to get a photo!


Onto to New Hampshire! We visited Hanover High School, Thetford Academy, and Kimball Union Academy during the day.

Thetford Academy:  Clara Hoffman (F ‘15), Taylor, and Kia O'Connor (F’15)
Thetford Academy:  Clara Hoffman (F ‘15), Taylor, and Kai O’Connor (F’15)

We had dinner at Molly’s in Hanover with some of our alums at Dartmouth and living in Hanover!

Starting from the left back row: Amelia Lubrano (SU ‘ 15), Ruby Spitz (SP’ 16), Maggie, Maisie MacMillen (F ‘15), Avery Vanacore (SP’14), Noelle Henderson (SP ‘15), Taylor, and Glenn
Starting from the left back row: Amelia Lubrano (SU ‘ 15), Ruby Spitz (SP’ 16), Maggie, Maisie MacMillen (F ‘15), Avery Vanacore (SP’14), Noelle Henderson (SP ‘15), Taylor, and Glenn



A visit to The Mountain School! We met up with Kareen Obydol-Alexandre, a teacher who attended the Summer 2016 Teachers Conference.

Kareen Obydol-Alexandre and Taylor
Kareen Obydol-Alexandre and Taylor 


Taylor and Glenn made some new lady friends
Taylor and Glenn made some new lady friends


That night we met up with a couple of our alums at Bates College!

Glenn, Sam Hastings (F’12), Jake Atwood (SP’14), and Taylor (Sam’s Advisor while at IS)
Glenn, Sam Hastings (F’12), Jake Atwood (SP’14), and Taylor (Sam’s Advisor while at IS)



Taylor drove up to Camden Hills High School and visited our partners at Hurricane Island Outward Bound. Glenn visited Freeport High School and Yarmouth High School. That night we had a small gathering of prospective students and alumni families in Falmouth, ME!

Glenn and her advisee, Jessie Gray (SP’15), in Falmouth!
Glenn and her advisee, Jessie Gray (SP’15), in Falmouth!



We drove up to Colby College for a cup of coffee with our last group of alumni!

Chase Goldston (SU ‘13), Hannah Piersiak (SP ‘12), Melinda Edie (F ‘14), Glenn, Taylor, Eleonor Bauwens (SU ‘15)
Chase Goldston (SU ‘13), Hannah Piersiak (SP ‘12), Melinda Edie (F ‘14), Glenn, Taylor, Eleonor Bauwens (SU ‘15)


Overall the admissions team connected with amazing alumni and prospective students all of New England and the trip was a giant success. But the highlight of the week was Maggie Nichols finding a camel in the middle of Vermont!! Even camels can try to live better in a (foreign) place.

Maggie and the leading expert camel in maple syrup production
Maggie and the leading expert camel in maple syrup production








Reflections from the semester: Kyra Hall

Friends, Family, and Alumni,

The Fall 2016 semester is flying by. Because we’ve been so busy, it feels like only a few short weeks ago that we were unpacking our things and circling around the flag pole for the first time, but it only takes me realizing all that we’ve explored and accomplished over these past 70 days to realize just how long we’ve been here.

Time is definitely a challenging concept here. We often say, “Every day feels like a month and every month feels like a day,” simply because of how fast everything moves, but also acknowledging all that happens in one day. The way that I’ve learned to define time here is by the friendships and incredible connections that grow on a daily basis. The Island School is a really special place in that you are constantly surrounded by interesting, kind, and extremely supportive individuals that care so much about your own personal success. The friendships that I have created here with my peers are indescribable and so cherished, but my valued relationships aren’t limited to students. I find myself having a new, thoughtful conversation with a new member of faculty, a member of CEI, or a hardworking individual from the farm just as often as I do with my close peers. Both types of relationships are easily attainable and immensely valued by all of the students here. The community and connections that I have established here are two of the main reasons that I have become so attached to this place I now call home.

Kyra leads the pack back into boathouse cut
Kyra leads the pack back into boathouse cut

These wonderful connections only deepened and expanded over our three-week Expedition period. As we were split up into four different Kayak or Sail groups, people were worried about leaving their beloved routine and friends for three weeks, but little did we know all that was ahead of us. I embarked on a 9-Day Kayak trip the first week of Expeditions and was really excited about the bonding of my group, the friendships I’d be able to deepen, the solo experience, and all of the adventures we had ahead. I knew it was going to be both a challenging and rewarding week, but what I didn’t understand was how happy I would be when I’d return nine days later.

Solo fell towards the beginning of my kayak trip and I couldn’t be happier that it had. The exciting 48-hour experience that all Island School students think about when they apply had finally arrived and it was more emotional than I’d anticipated. While leaving one of my best friends at the very beginning, we both broke down into tears, not from sadness, but from feeling so much excitement and anticipation all at once. Once I had settled into my spot and looked out at the beautiful beach and ocean in front of me, the tears immediately ceased. Where I was and the incredible opportunity that was lying in front of me instantly made me so appreciative. During my solo, I was forced to live in the moment, taking the experience minute by minute. I was so content for the duration of my solo as I was able to reflect, write several pages in my placebook, and recharge. Coming back together with my group afterwards was one of the happiest moments I’ve felt here and it enabled us to have finish our last 5 days on a really high note.

Kyra's kayak group after returning to campus
Kyra’s kayak group after returning to campus

As we kayaked back to campus the morning of Day 9, many of the faculty and students were out on the jetty cheering us on as we finished our final stretch. Seeing campus and the community we had missed so much filled our boats and bodies with pure excitement. As we reunited with the rest of the groups, the dorms and dining hall were full of nothing but stories and happy spirit. This energy carried over onto our Down Island Trip that followed. Exploring the island as a unit as we discovered the several impacts of tourism on this country was really interesting, eye-opening and our group was just overall excited to be back together for another 5 days.

All 50 of us are back on campus now, finding ourselves back into a pretty steady academic routine. As well as coming back together as a community, it’s crunch time for our research classes, we’re preparing for our art show, and our respective run and swim tracks are reaching our max-workouts before the 4-mile swim and half marathon. Campus is buzzing as we begin to prepare for Parents Weekend. We’re all very excited to welcome our parents to campus and share all that we’ve learned in just a few short days.

Kyra Hall

FA ‘16

HIOBS group prepares to head out

The HIOBS team in the Cape Eleuthera waters
The HIOBS team in Cape Eleuthera waters

Today marks the start of the Hurricane Island Outward Bound Maine to Bahamas sailing expedition to the Exuma Cays! After 10 days on campus learning about sustainability, the marine environment, and research skills, the students are ready to embark on their 18-day research expedition. They’ve also participated in many service projects over the past week with Deep Creek Middle School. From helping out with after-school sports and the Open Learning Center, to  facilitating team building activities and a beach cleanup, to helping out at the community garden, these students have made a huge impact on our community!

Working at the community garden in Deep Creek
Working at the community garden in Deep Creek

Here’s a quick note from the students about their time here thus far and what their expedition to the Exumas will bring:

“Our trip to The Island School and the Cape Eleuthera Institute is part of an Outward Bound 80 day Environmental Science gap year program. The Island School has not only been a great experience but also an amazing learning environment. The lifestyle at the Island School included ideals and ethics that are similar to those of Outward Bound and to our own. The efforts for sustainable living became a huge part of daily life on campus. From taking navy showers (60 second showers) to an intricate aquaponics system, the efforts made here to save our world for further generations is inspiring.

Another part of daily life here is a daily early morning workout, which is sometimes difficult but vital. These workouts boost both our physical health and advance our work towards a final goal of a 1.7 mile swim.

Exploring the wonders of Eleuthera
Exploring the wonders of Eleuthera

Hands-on learning is emphasized at the Island School. Our lessons include snorkeling, swimming, research, and engaging lessons with PhD scientists. The enthusiasm around this type of learning was both fun and effective, we all leave the classroom with a common understanding of the state of the world. These experiences provided us with a new way of learning and challenged us to apply our newfound knowledge.

The main portion of our expedition will be focused on adding to a long-term data set monitoring the health of reefs in The Bahamas. We, as a group, have been trained in research skills while on campus and are embarking on our 18 day sailing voyage, during which we will apply our new skills throughout the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. One group will be focusing on the growth, population, and health of Elkhorn Coral (a vital part of the coral reef ecosystem) in the Exumas, while the other will collect data on fish populations in the reefs. We are extremely excited and can’t wait to experience this new type of expedition and apply our new knowledge!”

The HIOBS team on Glass Window Bridge in Northern Eleuthera
The HIOBS team on Glass Window Bridge in Northern Eleuthera


Alumni Spotlight: Carter Brown (Sp ’09)

Our bus came up a short hill, rounded the last corner and before us was a sign marking the entrance. The Island School! As we crunched and bounced down the pockmarked driveway lined with hundreds of conch shells, all 48 heads on board were swiveling from one side to the other and back again. To the left was a fleet of boats, to the right a huge wind turbine and straight ahead a cluster of buildings with blue roofs. The bus came to a halt halfway around a circle with a tall flag pole in the middle, flanked by two thatch-roofed gazebos. A moment of silence descended on the group and then was broken by a loud voice crying out from the entrance of what we soon learned was Boys Dorm. “TODAY IS THE GREATEST DAY OF YOUR LIVES!!!!!” yelled the man we came to know as David Miller as he ran, beaming, towards the bus. A chorus of nervous giggles was the response inside the bus. We learned later that night from Chris Maxey, “you are here to save the world.” This was the beginning of the Spring 2009 semester at The Island School.

David Miller preps Spring ’09 to snorkel the wreck
David Miller preps Spring ’09 to snorkel the wreck

While at The Island School I learned that I could swim 4 miles in the open ocean, ooids can be studied for math class, how to drive a boat, use a sextant, conduct interviews with locals, and connect with people and places in ways I had not known was possible. I learned that Fritter is both a food item and an adored animal. That was the better part of seven years ago. The best part is even though it felt like a devastating ending when day 100 came and we had to leave the Island, it turned out to be just the beginning. For me, it turned out that the day I arrived on The Island School campus really may have been the greatest day of my life because I would not be where I am now without those first harrowing moments stepping off the bus into a new way of life. I know many alumni feel the same.

After leaving, The Island School became as essential to me as my own heart. I received no greater reminder of that than during the summer of 2010. I woke up to the sound of feet clomping up the stairs outside my bedroom. As per usual, I rolled over and pretended to be asleep, hoping that my parents would have mercy on my laziness. My door clicked open and I heard a deep inhale of breath followed by a loud, drawn out note. This was a note which I had previously associated with only one place in the world. It had to be a dream I told myself, but I had to look just to see. I rolled over again and standing in the doorway to my room was Chris Maxey himself, brandishing a conch horn and preparing for another blast! I doubt I have ever leapt out of bed faster as Maxey hurried me down the stairs and out the door for a run-swim and yoga session along the Jersey Shore. That morning, Maxey taught me that I could leave The Island School, but that The Island School would never leave me.

Maxey and Carter after the surprise run-swim.
Maxey and Carter after the surprise run-swim.

The Island School showed me that there was a life to create in my greatest interest. From the moment I left I knew I was going to be an environmental scientist. I came home convinced that I was going to change the world, that I had all the tools I would need to do it, and that I could start that very day. Needless to say, I set myself up for immediate failure and frustration. I couldn’t understand why it was so hard to change someone else’s opinion. Why couldn’t my friends recycle? Why couldn’t my town have a community compost? Separated from my friends and teachers I had made at the Island School, I felt lost. But slowly I learned to pace myself, to take success and progress in smaller chunks. Others in my semester had similar arcs of progress, and we encouraged each other to keep going.

Eventually, everyone in my semester graduated into college. We had spread out across the country, but we were still Island Schoolers. We sought each other out at events like the 15th anniversary reunion in Boston or bumped into each other in chance encounters on a street. I attended Hobart and William Smith Colleges. I signed up for all of the environmental and biology classes I could during my first semester. My fervor and eagerness to continue my path to becoming an environmental scientist was, at the time, seemingly impeded by having to take a class called Storytelling, with a professor named Charlie Temple, along with my bio classes freshman year. Little did I know that one class would have a profound effect on me, to the point where I altered my double major in Environmental Studies and Biology to accommodate an English minor. I excelled when I could communicate with people instead of attempting to communicate with a microscope. This realization was a critical struggle that I wrestled with throughout college because I was so thoroughly convinced that I needed to save the world, as Maxey had told my semester years before, and that science was the only way I could do that.

Fellow Sp‘09ers Eduardo Lopez and Walcott Miller return to campus for 2015’s Reunion
Fellow Sp‘09ers Eduardo Lopez and Walcott Miller return to campus for 2015’s Reunion

I finally found my answer only months ago. After graduating from HWS, I accepted a position as The Island School’s Alumni Educator which planted me for a full year back on Eleuthera. I was put in touch with all of the Class Agents from all semesters, while also being an advisor to a group of students. In many ways, it felt like I was completing a cycle and returning home. I coached swimming and freediving, helped lead community service and co-led a Down Island Trip. I spoke weekly with alumni from all over and turned their stories into blog posts. I even had a hand in the 2015 CONCHtribution and 2016 1-for-100 campaigns. To top it off, I had two advisories of my own filled with the most incredible students.

At the end of both the Fall 2015 and Spring 2016 semesters I received a letter from an advisee that brought me to tears because of the writing’s elegance and simple beauty. Those letters showed me that I had made a tangible difference in at least two lives. My advisees taught me that there are an infinite number of ways to change the world. Freed from the burden of a destiny I had shackled myself to, I am now a fundraiser at a medium-sized environmental charity in Philadelphia. Professor Temple from my Storytelling class five years ago might be proud to know I tell stories for a living. And each day I get out of bed as if Maxey were in my doorway, with a conch horn, telling me to do my part in making this world a better place.

Island School alumni become Shark Explorers

Shark Explorers is a Cape Town based diving company that focus on changing people’s perspectives on the oceans’ top predators. Each year we bring in four Island School alumni to become part of our team. We continue to build on the love for ocean life, that was gained while in The Bahamas.  The internship program is based on the idea of “Education Through Experience.” The core values and tools that the Island School gives young people to thrive in Eleuthera, are the same values that allow for our interns to openly welcome the adventure and experience of the Shark Explorers Internship Program in Africa.  The 21 day program, held in August is full of scuba diving in and around the kelp forest and working as a crew member on the Great White Shark cage diving boat. We organize multiple excursions all over Cape Town to take in the sights and sounds of this amazing corner of the globe. For example, one day is spent on a game drive to see the big five land based animals of Africa.  The program also includes getting involved with ongoing research as well as supporting some of the top shark scientists and NGOs. The Shark Explorers Internship strives to be the next stepping stone for those of you that have been inspired by what the Island school has to offer and are enthusiastic to learn more about the ocean. It’s has been nothing short of a pleasure to host our 2016 interns and we can’t wait to take on four more alumni for our 2017 program.  


Take a look at what they had to say about the program:

“Even though this internship’s three short weeks are dwarfed by the incredible three months students were given at The Island School, we interns have enjoyed days jam-packed with just as much adventure as you’d expect from a day in the Bahamas. The Cape Peninsula and Cape Eleuthera may not have many similarities that are readily apparent, but working here at Shark Explorers has felt like a perfect extension of our semesters thousands of miles  away. We’re living right by the ocean, in a small town on a peninsula, as part of a close-knit community of people who are incredibly excited about what they’re doing down here. Sound familiar? Brocq Maxey and the rest of the Shark Explorers team have made this a fantastic three weeks, and we’re excited to share what we’ve been up to with everyone!”

– Harrison Rohrer  (F ’13)

“After doing our open water certification in 28 ˚ C water at the Island School, it was a difficult adjustment to dive in 14 ˚ C water. We encountered a few species of sharks endemic to this region while diving: the Pyjama shark, the Catshark, the Dark shyshark, and the Puffadder shyshark. My favorite dive was a shore dive off the off of Simons Town and in just a few meters of crystal clear water through the kelp forest. Another awesome dive we did was at the pinnacles and we gained experience dealing with surface currents, poor visibility and depth. We also did a few dives with Cape fur seals, which were a lot of fun, and on the last night we did a night dive.”

– Dana Biddle (SP ’13)


For me, the most exciting part about working with Shark Explorers was serving as a crew member on the White Shark cage diving boat and helping out with research done by the Shark Spotters organization.  Everyday, Shark Explorers runs a morning trip and an afternoon trip for tourists who want to see great whites in action.  The morning trip would leave the dock around 6:30 AM so we would be able to watch sharks feed on seals in the early morning light.  By watching the tactics these sharks used to hunt seals, it is easy to see how truly spectacular these animals are.

– George Crawford (SP  ’13)

While we were blessed to have great weather on most days we did have a few days where we could not go out on the water. One of these bad weather days we spent driving 3 hours away to go on a game drive. We saw hippos, elephants, giraffes, lions, chetahs, alligators, rhino and my favorite, zebras! This was a very unique experience because it allowed us to see not only another part of South Africa but it gave us the opportunity to learn more about the animals’ roles in African society.

– Olivia Wigon (SP ’14)



Please contact Brocq Maxey for more info at:


Instagram: @brocqmaxey @shark_explorers 


Lily Bermel, S’16, awarded Prestigious Congressional Award!

Lily picks up trash during a beach clean-up on Eleuthera
Lily picks up trash during a beach clean-up on Eleuthera
Lily Bermel, from Brookline, Massachusetts, was awarded the highest national award any teenager could receive, the Congressional Award. The award is given to less than 300 teenagers who have achieved over 1,000 volunteer hours. She set her focus areas in Volunteer Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness and Expedition/Exploration.  Lily continues The Island School’s mentality of leadership affecting change by joining her town’s Climate Action Committee as a student representative.
Congratulations, Lily! We are so proud to have you in our alumni community!
For more about Lily’s award, please click here

Alumni Spotlight: Devin Gilmartin (F’14) and Tegan Maxey


If you have been following this blog for a while, you may remember back in May when we published a piece about Fall 2014 alum Devin Gilmartin and his 2020 Vision t-shirts that were designed to echo the importance of the work done at the UN’s COP 21 meeting. Now Devin is back and has teamed up with Tegan Maxey for a new project. Together, they are creating a sustainable fashion company with a name that will be instantly recognizable to many in the broader Island School community and, soon, to many beyond: Querencia Studio. The Island School recently had a chance to catch up with both Devin and Tegan to hear about how they came to be a team and where they see their new project heading.

Tegan is not herself an alum of the Island School but she attended and graduated from both DCMS and Lawrenceville and has grown up on the Island School campus with an uncounted number of Island School students. Since graduating from Lawrenceville, Tegan set out to see the world and started in Singapore when she spent 3 months on a 112ft schooner followed by 3 months sailing through South-East Asia and then the Indian Ocean across to Cape Town, South Africa. This experience was followed by nearly a year cruising around the Mediterranean as a deckhand on super yachts. This might sound like an appealing lifestyle to many people but for someone with as close a connection to the core experiences of the Island School lifestyle, her reaction was just the opposite. She discovered that yachting is “an industry of excess in every possible way, which continuously conflicted with my upbringing, referring to trash as ‘resources.’ I left yachting, at a loss for where to go next having always pictured myself making a career on the ocean, before I took my dad’s offer to try and improve the Island School uniform. It was from this opportunity that I ended up on a call with Devin and once again found my footing in building Querencia.” Devin has been busy since we last heard from him in May. He completed an internship with Milk Studios where he had been working with artist Laolu on his “Brooklyn Dreamscape” project.


Just as Devin was finishing up his internship and work with 2020 Vision, and Tegan was being tasked to work on the Island School uniform, the two were introduced over a phone call. Devin and Tegan brainstormed with Island School’s Chris Maxey and Bill Johnston of Recover Brands on how their ideas could be taken to the next level, beyond the world of fashion. The result of that call was Querencia Studio. Devin and Tegan settled on that name for largely the same reasons. For Devin, the word Querencia “describes a safe place, a haven in which one feels at home. The Island School was certainly that for me.” For Tegan, she agreed with Querencia Studio as the name because she truly wants “it to be a safe haven for artists, scientist, and revolutionaries to plan, build, and create a more sustainable future for all of us.” Since then, Tegan and Devin have been hard at work creating an expanding range of products that currently includes long sleeve and short sleeve shirts as well as hoodies. The entire first collection is being done in collaboration with Recover Brands.


Devin and Tegan both have goals for the future of Querencia Studio. Both of them want Querencia Studio to become a model platform of sustainability in the world of fashion and beyond.  As Devin states, clothing is just “our first pursuit, and will certainly be a constant in our product output, but we are really taking on a multidisciplinary strategy. We want to explore any project that might provide us with an opportunity to innovate sustainably.” Tegan was inspired by her time in Europe, “where you have to pay for a plastic bag when you get your groceries, I was baffled that the US has not implemented such a system. It is disturbingly hard to get a to-go drink not served in plastic with a plastic straw”. She wants to see Querencia Studio take on “all aspects of conservation and the sustainable revolution, from the implementation of law to limit the amount of plastic waste in the world, to the hands on of getting out there and picking up trash from the streets and beaches”. With the current rate of implementation of their ideas, the Island School has no doubt that the Tegan and Devin will accomplish their goals.


Both Devin and Tegan were inspired by the Island School when creating this project. That much is obvious from the name Querencia alone, but for both of them, it runs much deeper than that. Tegan grew up on the Island School campus with the result that the school is “so much a part of my identity as a person that I owe it credit, to some degree, for every decision I’ve ever made, and Querencia is no exception”. For Devin “The Island School is at the heart of what we are doing. The Island School teaches you what a full day looks like. You’re up early and you’re moving, you’re constantly soaking in information. That’s now our day to day attitude with Querencia.” The next step is to begin to bring about change in the fashion industry.


Devin and Tegan have recognized and seized what they see as a unique opportunity in the fashion world. What they are creating is going to go beyond the “in the moment” trend of Green Fashion that many companies are focusing on right now. Querencia Studio is instead designed to cater to, as Devin says, “people who are willing to have a full understanding of a product before they invest in it. We are telling a story with each project we do. We feel the next wave of consumers will all demand the type of story we are telling, the story that explains where the garment is made, who makes it and what it’s made of.” The end goal is to set an entirely new, raised standard in both what a product is and what it stands for.

Devin and Tegan, all of us at The Island School are in your corner. We wish you the best of luck and cannot wait to hear about the successes of Querencia Studio! To checkout Devin and Tegan’s work, check out their website and Instagram page.


First Island School Alumni Wedding! Congratulations to Cameron and Wes Mize!

Back in the Summer of 2007, Cameron Powel, Fall 2004, and Wes Mize, Spring 2006, both decided to return to a place they love as summer interns. Before Island School internships revolved around specific research fields, Cameron and Wes spent most of their summer building reef balls. As coral blossomed on their newly constructed homes, a love blossomed between Cameron and Wes. Though Cameron headed to Bates College and Wes to Virginia Tech, the two maintained their relationship until they were joined back together in Boston, MA, where the couple lives now.

Cam and  Wes as interns in 2007


Cameron and Wes wed on June 18, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. With the sound of steel drums and Kalik bottles opening, the couple brought every detail of the wedding back to Eleuthera, including having the island stitched on the groomsmen’s ties! As our first marriage between two alumni, Cameron and Wes were joined by many Island School friends.
We wish Cameron and Wes Mize a lifetime of happiness and love, full of sun, sand and sea!
Kirtland Country Club wedding photography with Cameron and Wes
Kirtland Country Club wedding photography with Cameron and Wes
Kirtland Country Club wedding photography with Cameron and Wes

Expeditionary Summer Term 2016

“In order to discover new Ocean you need the courage to leave sight of the land.”
-Andre Gide

Lying on the decks of the Sharpie Schooners we watched the sun peek over the wide open expanse of Caribbean Sea. Our morning routine began like this most every day. Wake up at six, put away the sleeping boards, sing the Bahamian national anthem, jump in the water for a morning swim, climb back on the boats for breakfast and chores. Finally when tasks were completed and crew members were dressed in full sun protection, the sails came out and we were off.

Our expedition started on the 22nd of June when the expedition team took up residence at the newly constructed basecamp, located behind Water Polo Cut, which features tent platforms, an outdoor shower, fire pit, and a “private” beach. After dinner and some time to settle in, we circled up in the boat house to discuss expectations. That first night we acknowledged what an amazing and challenging opportunity this course would be for everyone involved.

Tents located at base camp on the Island School campus
Tents located at basecamp on the Island School campus

It is my strong belief that to adventure in the natural world one must be present. One must establish a sense of place, a bond and relationship with the land. Place-based education challenges the meaning of education by asking seemingly simple questions: Where am I? What is the nature of this place? Students are presented with the opportunity to become a part of the broader community rather than an indifferent observer. The Island School promotes this type of learning, and this course was no exception.

We spent the first week of the term on campus on learning the basics of sailing skills, marine ecology, and expeditionary living. We were pioneers plotting our journey into uncharted territory. Finally, we were ready. And so, we went.

Our expedition departed Eleuthera in the pre-dawn hours of June 30th, setting the course west 30 nautical miles across the rolling waters of the Exuma Sound. A true epic crossing was had, complete with compass and charts, waves washing over the gunwales, deep blue water, and a touch of seasickness. After eight exhilarating hours, land was sighted. Shortly thereafter we arrived at Halls Pond Cay, our first stop in the Exuma Islands.


Anchored off a white sand beach in turquoise water, an initially exhausted crew got second wind. Our first afternoon in the Exumas was spent relaxing in the shade of trees, and snorkeling the nearby reef. The students and Island School teachers were equally thrilled by the abundance of tropical fish and other marine species. Every so often someone (mostly me) could be heard exclaiming in excitement through their snorkel, a practice that continued for the duration of the trip.

The next morning we traveled to Warderick Wells Cay, headquarters of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We were met by a staff enthusiastic about our endeavor, and happy to spend some time talking with our group. Throughout the afternoon we learned about the marine protected area, fishing regulations, the Bahamas National Trust, and the history of the Exuma Islands. The time spent at headquarters helped the students to conceptualize the importance of their scientific studies on a large scale, and served as the launching point for their research.

At the beginning of the program during our on campus week, students were presented with four on-going research projects through the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI), and then chose to take on the project which most interested them. The topics of these projects included Queen Conch, sea urchins, lionfish, and grouper.

The bulk of our expedition was an experiment in living, working, sailing, and researching as a contained unit. It was an experience in self-awareness, group mentality, and leadership. Personal space is difficult to come by on a 30ft sailboat, especially when it is inhabited by eight people. Throughout our trip we all experienced emotional, mental, and physical obstacles. Our true growth lies in the fact that our group learned to acknowledge and deal with personal frustrations, to be vulnerable, and to rely on and trust in each other. After two weeks exploring the Exuma Islands, our crew crossed open water and returned to Eleuthera, following the path we had taken before. But we were not the same.

Reflection, in my opinion, is a key component in realizing and solidifying change. The final component of our expedition was a 48 hour solo. During this time students had the opportunity to sit alone with their thoughts, write in their journals, and rest. While sitting completely alone and in silence can certainly be an arduous task for most, the students came off of their solo time with a new appreciation of their experience and  understanding of themselves.

Final research presentations were held in Hallig House
Final research presentations were held in Hallig House

Now that the first ever Expeditionary Summer Term has come to an incredibly successful and joyful end, we can reaffirm our initial thoughts to be true. This program was in fact an amazing and challenging opportunity for everyone involved. Some of the highlights of our final week back on the Island School campus include: the final Epic Snorkel physical challenge, research symposium, Parent’s Weekend, and kook of the day assignments. Our graduation and course celebration was filled with laughter, friendship, and even a few tears.

Throughout the past month our 13 pioneer students gained the means and confidence to approach challenges in all aspects of their lives head on, and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so. When asked on the very last day of the course whether they would do it again, each and every one stopped to truly think it over, and then said yes.


“The pioneer island school expeditionary program was a unique experience never to be relived the same way. Through genuine experience learning and harsh hardships that strengthen your fundamentals. You often find who you are and settle your priorities. Being on campus and living and seeing this beautiful lifestyle is undeniably life changing.” – Sebastian Alvarez, EST 16’