Island Middle to High School Transition Program – High Seas, Resilient Kids

BAR HARBOR, ME — It is an example of how the Mission watches and listens to our communities and responds creatively. That’s how Maine Seacoast Mission President John Zavodny described the Mission’s island Middle to High School Transition Program. Led by Mission Island Outreach Director and Chaplain Douglas Cornman, the annual Transition Program retreat helps students living on unbridged Maine islands prepare for their transition to mainland high schools.

“Every summer, a group of resilient young teens scattered across eight unbridged islands off Maine’s coast are faced with the reality that..they are about to trade the island life they know for a life utterly foreign to them. Nearly all these island students will be boarding on the mainland during high school…with relatives or family friends,” said President Zavodny.

Director Douglas Cornman agrees. “Transitioning into the first year of high school can be intimidating and stressful. The Transition Program retreat offers a place where students can ask questions and have discussions about the transition. A lot of preparation and attention goes into making sure the students attending this three-day, two-night event, feel the safety and comfort needed to open up and engage in the process,” said Cornman.

Island students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade can take part in the retreat. One way Douglas keeps things fresh is by changing retreat venues each year from Camden, to Belfast, to Bar Harbor.

This year, January 17-19, St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church‘s Parish Hall, Bar Harbor, was home base for the Transition Program retreat. Eight students from six islands, along with their parents or chaperone, took part. Douglas was joined by Mission’s Director of Student Pathways Christina Griffith in co-leading the retreat. According to Douglas, Christina used her expertise mostly working with the parents on their thoughts, concerns, and excitement.

Douglas also had help working with the students from Mission EdGE Outreach Coordinator Matthew Cole, Executive Director Nicole Cardano of Theater Today based in Seal Cove, and assorted staff and students from public and private high schools.

This year’s Transition Program retreat helped students and their parents with problem solving, skill building, communication and social skills development, and alleviating anxiety during social interaction. There was also plenty of time for meet-and-greet, game playing, and swimming.

Director Cornman said Sunday’s scheduled retreat activities were “very condensed” because an impending storm sent students boating back early to their home islands. Beforehand, Douglas had each student write a letter to themselves. He will hold onto the letters for a year before mailing them back to the students. This exercise gives the students a chance to reflect on how their thoughts and feelings regarding high school change from one year to the next.

“Yes, we had snow, winds, high seas, had boat cancellations, resilient island kids, parents, and chaperones. And, yes, we had a fantastic fun-filled weekend,” said Douglas.