Can you predict what the weather is going to do tomorrow? The students of Frenchboro school might be able to.

Over the past few months, Frenchboro, along with 12 other small island schools, has been participating in the Island Institute’s Students and Teachers Observing and Recording Meteorological Systems (STORMS) project. The purpose of STORMS, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is to make weather and climate science understandable to younger students by combining data that they can’t see with actual weather events that they can. Like the other participating schools, Frenchboro installed a meteorological instrument on the roof to record temperature, humidity, wind speed and other weather data. They can then use this data for a variety of “number-crunching” projects, explains teacher Doug Finn, and in the meantime learn a lot about the scientific process. They enter their weather data daily into a spreadsheet, which they can then use to make graphs, discover patterns and make educated guesses about weather patterns. Frenchboro students even checked their weather daily against the weather in Jackman in order to compare inland and island weather.

Frenchboro has taken this basic framework one step more local by using a prime source of qualitative weather data: their own island fishermen. Given that all of Frenchboro students’ families are 100 percent dependent on fishing, and nine of the school’s 12 students are either licensed fishermen or are working towards licenses themselves, it made sense to use fishing as real-world example of weather impact. At the beginning of April, students were sent home with a questionnaire for their fishing fathers. “They loved giving their fathers homework,” explains Finn. Each day in April the fishermen were asked to record if the weather would have permitted them to go fishing if they wanted to, personal schedule and trap rotation notwithstanding. At the end of the month, the students compared the fishermen’s judgments with their weather data from April.

“There was definitely a trend,” says Finn, “although there were some differences.” The exercise helped students connect their graphs and data to real world experience. To cap off the project, the kids invited the fishermen in to reclaim an old Frenchboro tradition, the “coffee shop,” to talk about the decisions they made and to share anecdotes about past weather events, such as the time the ocean froze over between Swan’s Island and Frenchboro. “It really brought fishing into the school,” says Finn and both students and fishermen felt that they were “giving useful information.”

The STORMS project has given students a deep understanding of the weather as well as some quality family conversation. “Our second-grader was schooling his father in cloud formations,” says Finn and the students can now recognize shifts in a weather pattern from changes in pressure or wind direction.

The Frenchboro students are now using their newfound weather expertise in another way. Every morning at 8 a.m., the students fire up their VHF radio and bring all the fishermen in the vicinity up to speed on the NOAA forecast, the marine forecast, and the current weather conditions at Frenchboro school.

Cherie Galyean is a freelance writer living in Bar Harbor.