For Lana Cannon, this is the job of a lifetime. As the Island Institute’s William Bingham Fellow for Rural Education on Matinicus, Lana is immersed in the local school, facing challenges with newfound skills that she believes will serve her for life, and making changes that will serve the school and the community far into the future.
The one-room school on Matinicus currently has six students ranging in age from 5 to 14, from kindergarten to eighth grade. Their teacher, Heather Wells, is thriving in her first year in this position. With help from other island teachers, Heather and Lana have been writing new curricula for their multi-grade-level classes, concentrating first on social studies and science, the first time that this multi-grade curriculum has been written for Matinicus. As a public school, its curriculum must meet the Maine Parameters for Essential Instruction for each grade level.
What seems like a difficult proposition becomes possible with carefully prepared lessons, but the process is greatly helped by a mix of amenable personalities and strong family and community ties. “The children are great,” Lana says. “We have three, two-sibling groups in the class. They have nearly perfected the concept of peer teaching-older children helping younger-so that, even when they are being taught a relatively advanced topic, the younger children pick it up very quickly by observing and interacting with the older students. It is a very unique and exciting classroom dynamic to observe”
Island schools face a number of unique circumstances that pose a significant challenge for students and families. Maintaining student numbers in island schools is challenging as populations fluctuate. Lana is carefully assembling school records, guidelines, and curricula so that, for the first time, all of the data generated by the school and the necessary information for operating the school will be organized and accessible in one place. In the next two years, two preschool students will be coming into the school, which is good news for the island.
Lana has also been working with Suzanne Rankin on establishing the Matinicus Historical Society. Lana grew up on Peaks Island, and understands the historical perspective of residents living on island communities along Maine’s coast. The fact that many of the residents on Matinicus Island have roots there dating back to pre-colonial days makes the history personal.
Most of the artifacts, photos, letters, and other items that have been donated to the archives have come straight from their homes. The years-long effort to incorporate the Matinicus Historical Society as a nonprofit are just about to be realized-the application is awaiting approval by the IRS. “I can’t wait to begin cataloguing and archiving this summer,” said Lana. ” The town office will be renovated in June to accommodate storage of the artifacts, and when the nonprofit status is approved, the historical society can start right in raising funds to collect, preserve, promote and display the collection.”
Matinicus has a year-round adult population of about 45 on 1.6 square miles, and nearly every family participates in lobstering. To Lana’s lasting gratitude, the tightly-knit island community has embraced her, and she finds that the heightened sense of closeness and cohesion found on Matinicus has been one of the most memorable aspects of her time on the island. She has even joined a knitting club, and says, “I don’t think I could ever have imagined how much fun I could have in a knitting group. These women are so sharp, warm, funny and generous! They keep me on my toes-and they taught me to knit more proficiently!” She’s also been asked to sell some of her beaded jewelry, which incorporates shells and beads, at the farmers’ market this summer.
Everyone looks forward to the summer, but Lana has been pleased and surprised by how much she has enjoyed the fall and winter season on the island. Of course, she misses friends and family, but they were able to visit, and they were quick to understand the attraction of Lana’s life on Matinicus. Her apartment next to the Steamboat Wharf gives her a perfect view of the busy waterfront and the sunrise. She doesn’t really miss television, but is happy to have her laptop and a subscription to Netflix. She doesn’t own a car, but has no trouble getting around the island on foot. Most important, though, is the satisfaction of doing jobs that she believes are important and that will have a lasting impact on the island.