At a time when school districts in California and elsewhere are increasing the number of students in classrooms and closing down schools because of low enrollment (really, that’s not an oxymoron), this Portland Press Herald story about a one-room schoolhouse on a Maine island struck me as interesting. In many ways, this is a portrait of how beautifully simple life in Maine can be.
The Cliff Island School – I believe the story said it was one of five one-room schools in Maine and one of 200 left in the nation – has a handful of students. The islanders and school district worry that the school will be forced to close once a couple students graduate to a middle school on a different island. The district might not be able to justify the cost of the school if more families with school-age students do not move to the island.
According to the story, the cost of running the school is pretty high, but transferring the students to another school brings up certain planning and safety issues since it would mean ferry rides to the mainland and then a ferry ride to a different island for the school. That would mean ferry rides in some pretty foul weather some days.
A husband and wife make up the teaching team and it appears from the story and accompanying video that it is an idyllic educational and social situation for the children and the community. If I had children I would want them to experience something like this for at least a couple of years.
The first four or five years of my education were at the school in Portage not far from the center of town. It was a bit larger than the school in the story. There were four classrooms, although only three were used for regular classes with two grades in each classroom. The fourth classroom, as I recall, was used for special education, art classes and that sort of thing. There was a multi-use area where we had lunch and where we had recess if the weather was bad outside; it was northern Maine so the weather was pretty bad more than a couple times in a school year. As I recall to my friends who grew up in warmer climates, I walked to school in the snow up hill … both ways.
Outside there was a playground and a softball field. In the winter, plows would push back huge snow banks – at least they seemed huge to grade-schoolers – we would use for forts and playing king-of-the-mountain.
Looking back, it was a pretty good experience going to school there.
They closed down the school years and years ago and I believe the building is now the town offices.