Our campus is located on a peninsula known as 'Cape Eleuthera,' separated by six miles of mangrove creeks and bush from our neighbors in Deep Creek (or 'Freetown' as it is named on Google Maps). Situated adjacent to an abandoned 100-acre+ golf course on a man-made, miniature peninsula of our own, the school community is intimately intertwined with that of the Cape Eleuthera Institute. The marine science and sustainability research institute hosts PhD scientists and graduate students across a short bridge over a mangrove swamp between our campuses.
Our programs employ professionals from around the world and from settlements close-by on Eleuthera. A small child-care center on campus, the Early Learning Center, teaches little-ones between 2 and 7 years old. Our Center for Sustainable Development leads the charge in innovating towards more sustainable systems on campus, creating a model for other communities in this island nation.
While studying at The Island School, students have the opportunity to engage with seventh- through ninth-graders at the affiliated Deep Creek Middle School in a jointly-run Physical Education class. Island School students will receive 30 hours of community service credit for this class as well as for beach clean-ups, spreading awareness of environmental issues affecting Eleuthera and various other service opportunities throughout their semester with us.
Communication is a pivotal characteristic of strong leadership. The ability to hold a meaningful conversation across cultural boundaries is one of the most challenging forms of communication. Creating opportunities for students to develop their abilities in this arena is of paramount importance to The Island School. Due to the isolated setting of our school’s campus, our students have limited opportunities to engage with other people living on the island. Thus we developed an integrated cultural contact program to create and guide immersion experiences in the local communities of South Eleuthera.
The hub of the cultural contact program is the Histories course, which focuses on the students’ acquiring skills and theoretical understandings pertinent to cross-cultural dialogue. Building ethnographic and interpersonal skills in the classroom, the students apply and refine their understandings through “field” experiences created by the other programs. Most experiential components of the program, including Settlement Days and Community Outreach, have a structured assignment that contributes to a cumulative portfolio assessment for the first unit of students' Histories course.
As the semester progresses and students gain competence and comfort in holding cross-cultural conversations, the structured assignments yield to more unstructured time in the settlements. For example, the second unit of the Histories course is an in-depth study of tourism as a development strategy on Eleuthera. During their investigations, students interview a variety of stakeholders and are challenged to empathize with each one’s point of view regarding an actual development proposal. The assessment for this unit requires that the students can effectively apply the ethnographic skills learned in the first unit to ensure that they have created a well-informed impact assessment for the proposed development. The Down Island Trips (described below) that occur later in the semester also broaden students’ understandings of the challenges of tourism on Eleuthera, while simultaneously bringing them into contact with the people whom tourism impacts.
In the end, students learn through the cultural contact programs that leadership hinges on good communication skills, which can only be cultivated with an open mind and honest dialogue. Many aspects of The Island School’s curriculum—seminar discussions in the classroom, research initiatives, guest speakers—benefit from our Histories program because the skills developed in this course are fundamental to learning. And, most importantly, the understandings developed in the cultural contact programs are imperative characteristics of true leaders who can bridge divides others cannot.
The Community Outreach Program is a critical component of the cultural contact programs at The Island School. A conceptual understanding of cross-cultural communication is developed in the Histories course, and time spent with Deep Creek Middle School “buddies” allows Island School students to put those understandings into practice. Ultimately, students from both schools learn some of the most important skills necessary to being an effective leader—empathy and communication.
Communicating effectively across cultural boundaries is an extremely challenging skill to develop. Consequently, the Community Outreach Program is structured to assure that student buddies from The Island School and Deep Creek Middle School are provided with ample and regular time to learn from each other throughout the semester.
On a weekly basis, students spend two hours together. Early in the semester, much of this time is dedicated to structured activities that encourage Island School and Deep Creek Middle School students to learn from and about their “buddy.” As the semester progresses, that learning happens more naturally as the students work together on community projects.
Settlement days are important venues for the students to become familiar with the settlements of South Eleuthera. Split into small groups to avoid overwhelming any one settlement and further separated into pairs within each settlement, students are given an entire afternoon to explore. Structured tasks are administered that require students to uncover the stories of their assigned settlement by speaking to residents, encouraging students to engage and learn from the people they meet.
Various activities challenge the students to learn about their assigned settlement’s history, geography, attractions, economy, and culture. The students also practice their ethnographic skills through personal history interviews with residents. The information students collect contributes to their portfolio assessment in Histories class and is composed into a resource for their families over Parents’ Weekend.
Saturday night activities are often excellent ways for Island School students to hang out in settlements, develop relationships with their Community Outreach buddies, or meet new people. Approximately half of the 14 Saturday night activities for the students are set in the local settlements, and many involve Deep Creek Middle School students.
Pizza parties, basketball and softball tournaments, outdoor movie screenings, and holiday celebrations constitute some of the events that Island School and Deep Creek Middle School students share during a semester. And there are a number of Bahamian celebrations, such as Fish Fries and Homecomings, that welcome our attendance—much to our students’ benefit. Though little structure accompanies these events, some of the best cultural learning happens during these fun experiences.
With a long sailing tradition in the archipelago, Bahamians consider north as “down” because the currents run south to north, hence the name “Down Island.” Down Island Trips are a chance for students to see and experience the central and northern portions of Eleuthera. These excursions are 3-day car-camping trips that allow students to spend time in larger settlements like Governor’s Harbour and Spanish Wells, explore sites of historical or natural interest, and gain a wider perspective of the tourism industry on Eleuthera.
Days are filled with meeting new people and exploring new settlements, body surfing on the sugar sand beaches along the Atlantic, investigating caves inhabited by Lucayans, historical settlers and bats, snorkeling tidal channels that offer a rapids-like ride, and bonding by a campfire. Down Island Trips are essential for exposing students to the wider geography and culture of Eleuthera and remind students how much the natural and cultural landscape has to teach us.
The Island School is a non-denominational school. That said, if you were to ask a Bahamian in South Eleuthera what the best way to get involved in their community is, they invariably answer that attending church is the most important activity. Van transportation is made available to students most Sundays to various churches in nearby settlements.
There are two expeditions during the semester. The first is a 3-day kayak trip during which students learn the essential hard skills involved in sea kayaking and leave no trace camping. The 3-day expeditions are wonderful introductions to the environment of South Eleuthera and an invaluable bonding experience for the students.
Later in the semester, students apply the hard skills acquired during 3-day trips and develop leadership skills during an 8-day voyage by kayak around the southern point of Eleuthera or on a sailboat with Hurricane Island Outward Bound instructors to the Exuma Land and Sea Park, eastward across Exuma Sound.
Kayakers take turns leading their pod through the day’s route, selecting and setting up a camp site, cooking meals over an open fire, and learning about themselves and each other through campfire activities. Punctuating this 30-nautical-mile trip is a 48-hour solo experience on the windward coast. With only their own thoughts to turn to, the solos are often the most powerful experiences of the students’ semester.
Sailors learn navigation and technical sailing skills as they traverse Exuma Sound. Out on the water, the boat acts as a closed system. Students will learn about the importance of reducing and reusing the resources allotted on the boat as this mobile classroom teaches students lessons in sustainability.
The morning exercise program is a rigorous physical education program by any standards. The entire community—students and faculty alike—spends at least one hour participating in a variety of workouts five days of the week. Many exercises include a combination of swimming, running, and calisthenics; other offerings center on team sports such as water polo, volleyball, or ultimate Frisbee, while yoga and free-diving opportunities develop flexibility and concentration over the course of the semester.
By the third week of the semester, students must decide on a specialized course of training in preparation for one of two pinnacle challenges: a half-marathon or four-mile “super swim.” Three workouts per week are dedicated to this effort. Other notable workouts include three physical assessments: a combined run and swim that allows students to track their progress throughout the semester. A sample week of the exercise regimen might look something like this:
This exercise consists of exploring the unique coastline surrounding Cape Eleuthera. A series of man-made peninsulas make a great course for cross-training by running along the coast and swimming across each of the peninsula's small bays. Students who lead the pack get the extra benefit of calisthenics while they wait for their peers each leg of the way.
Students choose to either train for a half-marathon or 4-mile “Super Swim.” The length and intensity of these exercises increase throughout the semester until peaking at the main event. A typical endurance workout would include running 5 miles with a series of sprints or swimming 1 mile with a series of form workshops. Tracks are led by the same faculty members who teach academic courses and live on campus among students.
An optional sunrise free dive is also available a few times during the semester, depending on weather and participation.
These exercises are a wonderful way for students to exercise their team sports abilities or alternatively to reflect on their physical health in a meditative way.
Students are encouraged to maintain a healthy level of rest in preparation for the week to come.
The SCUBA program is instrumental to the Island School journey because it provides students with an opportunity to explore the beautiful underwater environment that surrounds Eleuthera in their Marine Ecology course.
After demonstrating proficiency in a number of underwater skills, students explore and document the underwater ecosystems. By the end of the semester, all students acquire PADI’s Open Water Diver certification and log approximately ten dives, including a night dive and a 100-foot deep dive to “The Wall” of the Exuma Sound.