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.
Down Island Trips
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.