Travel Blog: West Teaching Scholars Ocracoke Island Leadership Retreat
by Jane Snider, Staff Member
Our morning started with a planned visit to the Ocracoke campus of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT). The newly opened campus at Ocracoke is a former U.S. Coast Guard station located at the mouth of Silver Lake Harbor remodeled with 1400 square feet of seminar space, 24 individual rooms with private baths, a full service dining facility and 2900 square feet of porch and decking area. Teachers from across the state may attend 5 day seminars chosen from a variety of topics at either Ocracoke, Cullowhee or at various locations across the United States. All meals, travel, lodging, seminar materials and compensation for a substitute teacher are provided by NCCAT. Teachers who are selected are currently teaching and have completed three years of teaching in a North Carolina public schools. Teachers may attend only once every three years. NCCAT also offers National Board Certification Support Seminars for portfolio work. Students attended a session of "Emotional Intelligence and Wellness in the Classroom" with teachers from across North Carolina including two teachers from Corriher-Lipe Middle School in Rowan County.
During the session, Center Fellow, Ernest Johnson, welcomed the group and gave brief background information on NCCAT as well as a description of the seminar. Teachers were reading A Mind at a Time by Dr. Mel Levine and learning about the different learning styles of children. The group viewed a video where Dr. Levine discussed his theories on how children learn. He stated that "different minds learn differently" but that "most schools cling to a one-size-fits-all education philosophy. " Today's parents encourage their children to be the best at everything rather than allowing them to be the best at what their natural skills and abilities will allow. The video included several case studies of children with different types of learning disabilities and how they were overcome.
Afterwards, students broke into small groups and were given a tour of the facilities by the teachers attending the seminar. Teachers returned to their session and students met in the "watch room" with Alton Ballance, Center Fellow and author of Ocracokers. As we gathered in the watch tower of the old Coast Guard station, Mr. Ballance gave a historical view of the island discussing how the island was settled, why the first settlers built on the sound side of the island, the effects of WWII on the island community, the challenges of living on an island with a population of approximately 800 year round residents that swells to several thousand during the summer months, how storms and hurricanes affect the islanders, how houses are constructed to survive the rise of water from the storms, and the isolation from the mainland with the only mode of transportation on or off being by ferry. As Mr. Balance talked and students questioned, we began to see a culture very different from our own. Some had already experienced the inconvenience of not being able to use cell phones—sometimes our only means of contact with others in the group. So we began to think and understand a way of life very different from our own. There are no hospitals on the island but there is a doctor and medical clinic. Emergencies require transportation to the mainland via helicopter. Visits to specialists, dentists, even Wal-Mart! require careful planning centered around the ferry schedule and the weather. There are only two or three "community stores" where residents can pick up the basic need items, but we surmised that residents probably made one or two trips per month to Hatteras Island to shop at the closest full-size grocery and discount stores. There are no hardware, appliance or furniture stores so anything of that nature must be delivered via ferry.
Mr. Ballance responded to questions about Ocracoke "brogue" explaining that the dialect is derived from early Scotch-Irish settlers. Because of the isolation of the island, the dialect remained prevalent until the island became a destination for fishermen and tourists over the last few decades. Still, as he talked we could hear the dialect in certain words such as "herri-cane" for hurricane and "feesh" for fish. Plans had been made to meet the next day at Mr. Ballance's house for a follow-up session. When asked for directions, he stated "have your students find me." This only provided another example of life in a small community where nearly everyone knows who you are, where you live and what you do for a living. We returned to the village for lunch with plans for a beach excursion later in the afternoon.
We traveled to the beach access where some relaxed in the sun, some frolicked in the ocean and others spent several hours combing the beach for treasures. Shell seekers found many beautiful unbroken shells including several whelks, Atlantic calico scallops, lettered olive, cockle, Atlantic auger, coquinas, sand dollar, skate egg cases and Atlantic moonsnail. We returned to the lodge to freshen up, eat dinner and reconvene later in the evening for a leadership seminar.
Dr. Osterhus began the seminar by asking "what is a leader" and students identified the characteristics and qualities they believed described a leader. Mentors led small group discussions with scholars to identify how each would assume the role of leadership during their sophomore year. A member of each group then presented the key components of their small group discussion. Mentor Jennifer Board gave a PowerPoint presentation on constellations visible from the island and taught us how to identify major stars within these constellations and their proximity to each other. The presentation also included the mythological ties to the constellations. Using the free downloadable planetarium software program called Stellarium, Jennifer was able to show a realistic view of the constellations. Armed with instruction, we drove to a more isolated beach access to view the sky and show what we had learned. We identified the constellations Gemini, Cancer, Virgo, Taurus, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, Leo, Hydra; planets Mars and Saturn and major stars including the North Star, Polaris, and the former North Star, Vega; Spica, Arcturus, Castor and Pollex, and Rigel.
PHOTOS: Teaching Scholars Leadership Retreat