At the fifth grade celebration ceremony on the last day of school at Peaks Island Elementary School, the students were asked: “Picture yourself at 25; what will you be doing?”

The students responded with some big dream ideas: soccer player, professional singer, president, NBA star and video game designer. In that moment, I paused and thought about my fifth grade self. How would I have answered that question?

Standing in the gym on the last day of school as my 25-year-old self I can say with 100 percent assurance I would not have answered, “Living and working on Peaks Island as an Island Fellow.” I didn’t even know that was an option.

But I could wager a guess that my fifth-grade self might have said that my 25-year-old self would be a science teacher. My 25-year-old self can say, with 100 percent assurance, that a year from now, I will be a middle school science teacher. It took living and working on Peaks Island to convince my 25-year-old self that teaching is the right career path.

So how did living and working on Peaks Island convince me to be a teacher? The answer is two words: the students.

Having spent the second year of my fellowship working at Peaks Island Elementary School with guest appearances at the Peaks Island Children’s Workshop, I have connected with many of the island kids ages 2 through 13, a total of around 70 students. But it’s how I’ve connected with these children that’s something I hope to take with me as I become a teacher.

A highlight of my year at Peaks Island Elementary occurred during our fall by-catch investigation for the Island Institute’s WeatherBlur project. WeatherBlur is a two-part project, collecting daily weather data and trying to answer the question, “What impact is global climate change having on our marine environment?”

In order to answer the question, a by-catch investigation was set up. Twice a week a group of students and I would head down to a dock near the school to pull up an unvented (no escape openings) lobster trap we had set. The first few times we went to the trap I was in charge, showing students how to measure the crabs and lobsters, recording the data and making sure the kids didn’t fall into the ocean (always a good goal).

The third time we ventured down to the dock I started noticing that something was different and it wasn’t just that I had convinced the students to skip recess in the pouring rain in order to go check the trap. The difference, I realized, was that two students started to take charge; they lined the other students up, hauled the trap, pulled out the crabs and lobsters and made sure the data was being collected in an organized way.

Often times when students take charge, it might be expected that it’s the top student or leader in the classroom, but in this case, it wasn’t those students. The students who took charge of the WeatherBlur bycatch investigation were a couple of boys who find school challenging, but by taking them outside the classroom for a hands-on activity, they were able to step up.

The WeatherBlur bycatch became something that they looked forward to. The project provided these students with the self-confidence to lead their peers and have a successful academic experience. I’ve been told moments like these can be rare in one’s teaching career, but I hope to take what I learned in this moment with me and inspire other students in the same way.

As my 25-year-old self gets ready to leave Peaks Island to pursue a career in education, I first have to find a way to say “thank you” and “goodbye” to an island that has become like a family. My fifth-grade self would never have predicted that my 25-year-old self would be living on an island, but I’m grateful and inspired by all that this 25-year-old has experienced.

Maggie Small has been an Island Fellow on Peaks Island for the last two years through AmeriCorps and the Island Institute.