As the gorgeous weather peaked in mid-August this summer, students and teachers from six coastal and island high schools busily hiked through woods, set off on research boats and researched local history – all in an effort to learn the nuts and bolts of GIS (Geographic Informational Systems).

The Teams of two teachers and two students gathered at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole to learn and explore together. Participating schools included Islesboro Central School, North Haven Community School, Vinalhaven School, Georges Valley High School, Searsport High School and Washington Academy.

With support from the Jessie B. Cox Foundation, the Island Institute organized this Aspirations Summit, which provided training in GIS technology, place-based education and tools for bringing both together in the classroom.

The first task was to learn how to use handheld GPS units. Each school team was sent on a scavenger hunt through the extensive trail systems at the Darling Marine Center. After hiking at least two miles, many U-turns, moments of aggravation and fits of screaming, each team found a Garmin Etrex Legend Handheld GPS unit to take back home for the entire school to use.

Each school team came to the Aspirations Summit with varying experience with GIS. Some schools had had absolutely no exposure to this technology. Other schools, such as Islesboro, have elective courses rooted in GIS and have completed successful GIS technology projects. This mix of first-timers and experienced individuals allowed students to help other students and teachers to help other teachers.

The Aspirations Summit’s goal was to not only introduce participants to GIS technology, but also to provide training in place-based education. In other words, how to use one’s local surroundings (the environment, the town, local organizations) as a resource to create educational experiences.

Julie Bartsch, Northeast Steward for the Rural School and Community Trust, facilitated the teacher training in place-based education. In addition, many of the schools participating in the Aspirations Summit discussed what place-based education is already happening at their schools. Everyone attending the summit learned about the ongoing projects in small rural schools along the coast of Maine, how to enhance them with GIS technology, and how to begin new projects in their schools and communities.

Ruth Kermish-Allen is Education Outreach Officer at the Island Institute.