Down East 2013 ©
We had strict orders: no rainbow tie-dyed sweatshirt from Reny’s, no black and red plaid wool coat, no Grundens, and never, ever, follow up an introduction to a teacher with the query “Didja gitcher deer yet?”
Ah, Parents’ Weekend at the posh boarding school. Tarzan Visits the Big City. Well, not quite.
We’ve just been to our last high school “Parents’ Weekend.” Our children have grown up — one has graduated from Gould Academy and is now at the University of Vermont. For him, the days of “Parents’ Weekend” with teacher conferences and all that are over. Gould works on a trimester system and opens up for a Parents’ Weekend three times a year. Somehow, despite the heavy statistical likelihood that we would not, at least one of Eric Murray’s parents have made it to every one of those events. We ate a great deal of dining hall food, we attended plays and fundraisers and college workshops and assemblies. We listened while teachers both offered praise and told our son to pull up his socks and get to work. I don’t know how we managed it. A friend of Eric’s, who lives on Isle au Haut, also sees her parents and grandmother show up faithfully for each of these. For a friend of our daughter’s from Monhegan, the same. I don’t know how any of us do it.
These orders to be inconspicuous come, you realize, from a barefoot daughter who carries a large pipe wrench and from son who wears a long, black, Australian-duster-style trenchcoat and carries a Japanese fighting staff. Making an impression is fine — just not on Parents’ Weekend.
However, it seems we couldn’t help but attract the attention of at least a few students. Two hours into our first Phillips Exeter Academy Parents’ Weekend in 2006, six weeks into our daughter’s ninth-grade year (they don’t call them “freshmen” there — the term is “prep,”) her friends sitting around her in daily assembly, having just met her dad, broke into a spontaneous chorus of “I’m a Lumberjack.” Thankfully she has a sense of humor. They really are her friends, too — the days of the Boston Brahmins hassling the scholarship kids from the small towns are essentially over (thank goodness).
Good thing, because the pirate outlaw island children might feel the need to reciprocate.
When a student on Matinicus Island reaches eighth grade, he or she and the entire family has to prepare for a certain amount of what can only be described as upheaval. No high school exists on the island, of course, but neither is commuting an option. The realities of transportation differ from island to island; Monhegan has a “mailboat” that carries passengers, but it does not run every day during the winter. Isle au Haut has a daily boat which does allow some students to attend Deer Isle-Stonington, but the student must work his or her schedule around the boat, and that is bound to interfere with sports, drama, or other activities which lengthen the day or take place in the evening. Frenchboro’s boat service is regular but not even close to daily. Cliff Island, part of the City of Portland but quite a ways out into Casco Bay, sends junior-high students to the mainland every day on the boat (again, resulting in restrictions on what the students have time to join). Matinicus, twenty-two miles from Rockland with no wintertime boat service, no daily boat anytime, and a trip over open ocean that ranges from one hour to two depending upon the vessel, certainly offers no commuter option. Mail and routine freight come by air service, which is very heavily impacted by weather. Days may go by with no transportation on or off the island possible at all (yes, even if you are sick).
High school students have to move.
Matinicus Island has no affiliation with any other school. We are our own school district — MSAD #65 became RSU 65 after consolidation or, in our case, non-consolidation. There is no way that we could require any student of ours to attend any particular high school, simply because the big issue is finding them a place to lay their head each night.
NEXT TIME: Island students and their smorgasbord of options, and why private school for our barefoot savages?
Eva Murray lives, writes, and bakes on Matinicus Island.