Although it’s unusual for high schoolers to begin their morning with an ocean swim in the Bahamas, for Sophia Witt ’20 and Rowan Curley ’20, it was just another part of their daily routine at the Island School, where they both spent their Fall Term.
The Island School, located on South Eleuthera island in the Bahamas, allowed 53 high school students to explore and engage with the island’s culture, environment, and community over a 100-day long semester. The program’s emphasis on experiential learning encompasses a variety of activities such as solo camping expeditions, scuba diving, sailing, and kayaking, in addition to regular academic classes.
According to Curley, the curriculum integrated the natural resources of the island and often involved outside activities.
Curley said, “If I had my marine ecology class, we’d go scuba diving. If I was doing math, we’d do statistics of water usage based on cistern storage on campus. A lot of the time we’d be doing expeditions, like nine-day kayaking or five-day van camping down the island. It was really always changing.”
Carmen Muñoz-Fernández, Director of Learning in the World, said, “I think the main benefit is that the Island School is a true experiential learning program, where it is project-based, and the students get to experience the world in a completely different way than they get to back home or here on campus.”
In addition to the unique education, Curley, Witt, and Tyler Murphy ’19, who attended the Island School during Fall Term of the 2017-2018 school year, said that they benefited from the opportunity of self-discovery provided by the physical and emotional challenges of the Island School.
Witt said, “I really wanted to find out more about who I was, down to the core of my person…[The Island School is] very, very hard at times, and there are times when everyone wants to go home, but it’s so worth it, and you learn so much about yourself. It’s honestly life-changing. It broadens your perspective so much.”
Murphy, who had a similar experience, said, “The most important thing I learned about myself is what I’m capable of… what I can do physically, because we do a lot of athletics there. Mentally, being away from home; emotionally, not being able to contact my family at all times and being with new people; and even academically, in the sense that I didn’t know how much I was capable of learning about myself.”
The Island School also fosters a different community dynamic from the one at Andover, according to Witt. Witt said that the school’s strict “no cliques” policy coupled with the small campus size and intensity of the program allowed the students and staff to develop much more tight-knit relationships with one another.
Curley also said that she was able to make close friendships with faculty members, many of whom were teaching fellows that participated in athletics and expeditions alongside students.
“They all became like big siblings to me. It felt comfortable relating to them…It just felt like a family on campus. Everyone knew each other and everyone said hello,” she said.
Students were not allowed to have phones or access WiFi on campus, although they were permitted to use their computers. According to Curley, being able to have face-to-face conversations with her friends, instead of interacting with them on social media, gave her the chance to get to know people on a deeper level.
“Every single interaction I’ve had with these people before leaving has been face-to-face. I’ve never known them online, and I feel like that’s something that never happens these days. It’s super incredible,” she said.
In order to partake in the program, both Curley and Witt missed the entirety of Fall Term and a week of Winter Term. Although they had to move the majority of their year-long classes to their Senior year, it gives them the ability to take electives typically reserved for Seniors during their Upper year. Despite the scheduling complications, both students said that they wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.
Witt said, “I would definitely, 100 percent, recommend it… I remember being a bit sad when it was Andover/Exeter Weekend, but honestly, I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything.”
Editor’s Note: Margot Hutchins is an Associate Copy Editor for The Phillipian.