The Young Men’s Leadership Retreat: A Year-Long Pioneering Program a Year in the Making

This July, we welcomed a group of 15 young men (aged 10-18) to become future leaders and change makers. This 8 day program, lead by Chris Maxey (Island School Founder), Will Simmons (Space 2 Create Founder), Stan Burnside (Outreach Coordinator) and Nigel Sands (Educational Programs Apprentice), was designed to challenge all participants mentally, physically and emotionally. The aim of the program is to help build the future leaders of our immediate community. Early on the first morning of the program, the students set foot on the Base Camp, a place that would be their home for the next week. During the 3 months prior to this arrival, each participant was involved in the construction of this ground breaking new space, learning valuable skills and earning a small stipend in the process. The young men felt ownership over the space they helped to build even before they arrived. Through S.C.U.B.A., snorkeling and free diving they learned to explore the amazing world that has felt foreign even though it has been in their backyards all their lives. Through the next week, the young men would face run swims, water polo, survival skills and stingray research all while supporting and encouraging each other and learning the values of brotherhood in the process. What may have been most challenging for the young men was the emotional and social issues addressed during the course of the week. Amid all of the physical challenges, time was designated to address vital issues such as: drug abuse, healthy relationships, goal setting and violence. 

Morning exercise is one of the most important routines of the program

While this program was only 8 days long, it is the culmination of over a year of hard work and dedication. The idea that spurred this initiative for change was the blatant over-representation of young men in the areas of unemployment and academic under-achievement. The need was obvious but the solution was less clear. Getting the young men to our campus was a simple solution but would most likely not have had the lasting positive impact that is crucial for real change. To foster this change, the program is designed to kick off a year-long mentorship program for each participant. During the year to come, the participants are going to be mentored by various members of our organization. The members of the Center for Sustainable Development have been pivotal in the initial success of this endeavor, lending not only their expertise but also their guidance and advice to each of these young men. This continued relationship is what is going to make the lasting change.

The woodshop is part of the Center for Sustainable Development, which is one of the locations on campus where participants are mentored.

The 8 day program was just the first step towards a brighter future. There is a long road ahead but we are committed to making a difference.

Stan Burnside and Will Simmons at camp on the Island School's campus


We’re Shelton and Jane, today’s Caciques. We’ve all been a tourist at some point in our lives. But few of us have been travellers. In our tourism and development class, we learned that to be a traveller is to be an ethical tourist; one who strives to become intimate with the land and its people. Each class group ventures on a four-day Down Island Trip, exploring the direct effects of tourism and development on Bahamian culture and the island itself.

Students on their Down Island Trip visit various settlements and businesses to learn about the tourism industry.

Summer term students have the opportunity to conduct interviews with local Bahamians throughout the trip, gaining new insights on tourism and how it impacts the individual people on the island of Eleuthera. On one of our stops, Shelton met a local baker who said that he enjoys tourists that visit Eleuthera because they have a “genuine desire to learn about our culture,” revealing that there is a positive side to tourism in some of the local communities. It was an incredible experience to connect with the locals and hear their stories. We ventured out on boats, ate local foods and discovered the many hidden gems of Eleuthera.

While continuing classes and intense Harkness discussions throughout the trip, we also had the opportunity to improve our skills as campers. Each member of the group participated in setting up fires, campsites and meals.

Students and staff work together to set up their campsite during a Down Island trip.


Overall, one of the best parts of the trip was becoming close with our peers and teachers. The Down Island trip was an intellectual and cultural experience that will continue to impact our lives at home, in our communities and in the greater world as we continue to question our role as tourists in other nations.

Signing off,

Shelton and Jane


This is Grant and Lily, your Caciques singing on: IMG_3716

Students measure soil at the aquaponics farm during a sustainable systems class. 

Monday was the halfway point of our stay here at the Island School. We, as a community, have grown to know each other very well and have become a strong support system for one another. We push each other through the many challenges that the Island School gives us as we prepare for our monster run-swim. Challenges can be mental as well as physical, so we always make sure that everyone feels supported. As of Monday, the Island School students have completed our first rotation of classes. It’s been a whirlwind of excitement and challenges, and it’s a weird feeling to know that we have gone through more days than we have left.

Monday was our off day where we were able to explore and enjoy the amazing opportunities we have in front of us. During the day off, Lily rested in the morning and biked to Sunset Beach in the afternoon along with many of the other students. Along with his peers, Grant went fishing in the morning near Fourth Hole Beach, then spent the rest of the day at Sunset Beach snorkeling with other students. The dedicated and hardworking group of 52 really got to know each other better at the beach as they listened to some of Owen’s favorite songs. In the evening, we had dinner before we all headed off to our class rotation groups where we were introduced to our new classes. There are three different classes that we take, which are tourism and development (which Lily just finished), marine ecology, and sustainable systems (which Grant just finished). We are both excited to learn more about each of our courses. We are all looking forward to the upcoming weeks as we cherish our last days here at the Island School. We have so much planed for the time we have left here, especially as we go into our new class rotation. We are all excited to see what the rest of time here has for us.


Students in marine ecology visit a nearby reef to identify types of organisms in the area.

Grant and Lily singing off, as your new Caciques will update you tomorrow!


SUMMER TERM 2016: Cacique Update #7

Hello everyone this is Johnny and Maeve and we are super excited to be the caciques of the day! Yesterday we were happy to have a sleep while some of us participated in morning meditation. Johnny was lucky enough to see a finning reef shark during sunrise. During the day the cocoplums were split into two groups to do research with CEI scientists. One group studied plastic pollution in the ocean, focusing on micro plastic and toxin buildup in fish species. In the morning they dissected Mahi Mahi and found a plastic fragment in its stomach. That afternoon they trawled a net that collected micro plastics from the ocean. Our group researched sharks, targeting migration patterns and nurseries for juvenile tiger sharks. In the morning we went out on a boat up a creek and set a long line.  This area is a suspected nursery for tiger sharks. The long line consisted of a series of circle hooks and buoys stretched out around the creek. We helped by baiting the hooks and attaching the buoys. Some of us helped by keeping track of the amount of hooks and buoys we put out. Then we left the line to sit for about an hour and a half and went for a swim (far away from the shark line). Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 6.38.01 PMMaeve and Johnny, our caciques!

Sadly, after pulling in the line and putting away all the hooks, we did not catch any sharks. We did catch a huge sea sponge! If we had caught a shark we would have tagged it with a cattle tag and spaghetti tag. If we had caught a juvenile tiger shark shorter than 180cm we would have also attached a satellite tag. This piece of equipment cost 4,000 dollars! This tag would have tracked the shark’s migratory paths, depths of swimming, and diet for six months.  Then it would pop off the shark and transmit information for about 2-3 weeks. Some people may be worried that tagging the sharks would hurt them or cause them pain, but they actually only feel pressure.

28139523781_e7531727a1_zStudents worked in research groups this week: one focuses on lionfish, an invasive species in the Bahamas

We wrapped the day up with an epic lip sync battle. Many different teams battled each other with an array of songs. Fritter the cat made an appearance as Simba in Tom’s (a teacher) performance of The Circle of Life. We ended the night with a singing group hug to the song I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston.  Some have called it “the most island school thing I have ever seen.”

28183527866_b889c4a599_zStudents engage a Harkness discussion in the Library

This is Maeve and Johnny, your caciques, signing off!


Hello everybody! This is Caroline S. and Louis, your caciques of the day signing on. Yesterday morning we started the day off with a community run-swim where all the groups in the community—us, the young men’s leadership retreats, the staff, and a few interns—gathered at circle and sang the national anthem and then began the run swim through the cuts to the sea wall and back to campus.  After losing just two people this time to sharks (just kidding) we proceeded to our morning classes.  In Marine Eco the cocoplums participated in many activities focusing on the interdependencies of species in the food web, using a rope to represent the connections between the organisms in the Bahamas Shoals.   We created a human pyramid to show the effects of a trophic cascade on an Ecosystem.  Later in the afternoon we applied these skills in scuba. We each observed the organisms noting how their form is connected to their function. 27568268414_edc2fe5343_zThe broader Island School community participating in a run-swim!

That night we were able to participate in one of the best opportunities we have had so far: listening to and dancing with the Eleutheran students from the Young Men’s Leadership Retreat. They were national champions in 2015 for the Junkanoo championship, and the experience was so much fun. Using drums, cowbells, scrapers, and bass instruments, the men created incredible beats while we all danced around and Maxey blew the conch horn. The performance surprised us all—the men played so well, creating a memorable experience for all.

28179260325_337f6a2f49_zStudents participate in research in the Exuma Sound

Though Louis wanted to choose a quote from a sunscreen bottle for the quote of the day chosen by the caciques, we ended up choosing “adventure is out there”.  The highlight of my (Caroline) day was when I was scraping out the sink snacks during dish crew, sink snacks are left over food scraps that clog the drains. Yum!

This is Louis and Caroline S., your caciques, signing off!