Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 27 January 2007

The Ratner School, Part I: A sense of place

My apologies for not posting much while I was on Eleuthera, but it was a very busy time!! I had a wonderful experience of simultaneous learning and teaching–very reminiscent of my time learning and teaching Russian at Noble Street Charter HS in Chicago. We were lucky enough to have a great group of kids and teachers to work with. The following [and subsequent posts] is my attempt to summarize my experience in The Bahamas.

Let me start with a few photos of the Island School:

Looking back towards campus over the Mangrove Bridge…

The view from the Dining Hall deck.

Sunset with the wind generator in the foreground.

Sunrising over the Caribbean, just before morning exercise.

Now, with a sense of the place established, it is easy to imagine how effective [and affecting] the Island School philosophy of placed based learning can be. We pared down the traditional Island School semester into a middle-school friendly “8 Day Essentials” class, in which we tried to cram in as many wonderful, unique experiences as possible.

The group [7th and 8th graders from The Ratner School in Ohio] arrived on Tuesday evening, and we dove right in on Wednesday morning with the introductory lesson, aptly entitled “Where are we?” This is a map exercise designed to get the kids thinking about their physical surroundings…in the Caribbean, The Bahamas, Eleuthera, South Eleuthera, Cape Eleuthera, The Island School, the Dining Hall deck… Start big and zoom in. End with a focus on the immediate environment.

Some students and I pore over a Bahamian map. [Bestill my heart! Kids excited about maps!]

Students present their findings, starting with the greatest-scale map of the whole Caribbean region.

Later that afternoon, we set out for our first snorkel to “The Wreck”, which is about a 10-15 minute swim off campus. The kids had a great time getting in the water and learning to identify certain fish and other creatures they would come to be familiar with by weeks’ end.

On Thursday, we started off the morning with a lesson about Mangrove ecology, and were able to get down and dirty in the mucky/murky waters of the young [recently restored] mangrove forest that separates the Island School from the Cape Eleuthera Institute [the research arm of the organization].

After discovering the awesomeness of the mangroves, we were treated to a lesson on conch. Kids got to play with live conch and particpate in making conch salad–a Bahamian delicacy!

Maddie and Jackie proudly display these beautiful conch shells.

Tiff helps us prepare conch salad.

Thursday afternoon was spent floating down the “current cut”–a manmade cut into the island coastline, which changes direction with the tide, and is a haven for all kinds of interesting creatures. Barracudas, seastars, spiny urchins, Blue Tangs [think: Dory from Finding Nemo] were all spotted by kids in the cut.

The kids fell asleep exhausted–but only after devouring the Chocolate Birthday cake they had in honor of their teacher, Mishy’s birthday.

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