There are more than 3,000 islands off the coast of Maine, and many great stories originate on them. The islands are rich in history and culture, and many island families can trace their roots back many generations. This story, written in 1990, was about the only schoolhouse on Isle au Haut, and the fact that enrollment had dwindled over the years to just a single student.
By ARTHUR FREDERICK
ISLE AU HAUT, Maine (UPI) — The green-and-white schoolhouse on this rugged offshore island functioned this year as it has for a century, but with one major difference: For most of the year, the morning bell summoned only a single student to class.
Every morning, Meredith Mattingly , 10, the son of a U.S. Parks Service ranger, walked down to the shore just outside the only village on the island to take his seat in the 100-year-old school’s only classroom. The fifth-grader had the undivided attention of his teacher, Tanice Jason.
“I believe in individualized instruction, and that happens naturally in a one-room schoolhouse,” she said.
The old wooden schoolhouse has the smallest enrollment of any school in the state. And although most of Isle au Haut’s 30 year-round residents scratch out meager incomes from the sea, the school easily has the highest per-pupil cost in the state at $44,000.
The school can offer instruction to children from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Normally, it serves between five and 10 students, and has served as may as 30. But the populations of both the school and the island have dwindled with the decline of fishing stocks off the Maine coast.
In spite of the decreasing numbers, however, the island residents have almost unanimously supported the local schoolhouse, knowing that closing the school would force even more families to leave Isle au Haut and move to the mainland.
At the end of winter, Meredith was joined by another student, fourth grader Jason Barter, who returned from the mainland with his father, a lobsterman.
Judith Lucarelli, the superintendent of schools in the district that includes Isle au Haut, said she favored keeping the island school operating, even though it is expensive.
Lucarelli said the quality of education at the old school is excellent — not simply because of the individualized instruction, but also because the school is equipped with everything from a MacIntosh computer to a well-stocked library.
Jason said this year will be her last at the Isle au Haut school, even though she enjoys the time she has spent with her handful of students.
Lucarelli said she has already decided on Jason’s replacement, who will also help ease Isle au Haut’s enrollment problems; the new teacher has two children of her own, and they will attend the school next year.
(NOTE: I checked, and the Isle au Haut school is still operating. This year (2015), it has four students, two in the fifth grade and two more in the sixth.)