Travel Blog: West Teaching Scholars Ocracoke Island Leadership Retreat
by Jane Snider, Staff Member
Today we arrive at Ocracoke School, a North Carolina School of Excellence and the state's smallest Pre-K-12 public school with less than 126 students in all grades. Principal, George Ortman, met with our students and related some of the challenges of such a small school. There are 20 teachers and 9 staff members.
Ocracoke School has also been designated a School of Distinction for the last three years. The average class size is eight students although the actual class size varies from grade to grade due to the population of the island. Five students will be in the graduating class of 2008. Pictures of the graduating classes for the last several years demonstrated this fluctuation as the numbers varied each year with sometimes only one student in a graduating class and as many as 12 students in one year. There is a 0% dropout rate and 100% of the graduates attempt higher education although not all finish a higher degree. Because the school is so small, there is no food service. Children either bring their lunch or have the option of going home since all are within walking distance of the school. Mid-morning snacks are served in a common area where students gather for their designated break. Grades 6–12 operate on a block schedule. Although there are teachers for every grade level, the science teacher for example teaches all science classes in grades 6–12 which include biology, physical science, earth science, chemistry and collaboration with teachers at the elementary level. Because of the size of the student population, the only athletic sport is basketball. There are no activity buses for the school, so the school must rely on teachers and parents to transport the team to games scheduled off island. Mr. Ortman pointed out that because of the isolation of the island, the team may miss an entire day of school to travel to another school for a game. The isolation also contributes to extra challenges for the professional development of teachers who may need two days of travel time to attend conferences. Advanced Placement courses and more specialized classes such as calculus, Latin, and Spanish are taken via virtual classroom or through the North Carolina Information Highway. There are no music programs but there are after-school music clubs. Over the last few years, the Hispanic population has grown and ESL programs have been added. Next year, students will have the opportunity to take classes through Beaufort Community College.
Our students were allowed to visit classrooms according to their field of certification. PE and music majors joined the basketball team for an impromptu game and even met them at the school later in the evening for another game. Dr. Freeze taught a lesson in the middle school social studies class which several of our students were able to observe. The remainder of the day was "free time" for island exploration. Students walked or rented bikes to explore Howard Street, the British Cemetary, Ocracoke Lighthouse, Springer's Point, and Teach's Hole where Blackbeard the Pirate was killed and beheaded. Some also went on a short excursion to view the Banker Pony Pens and more shelling on the beach. After a brief seminar session that night, we loaded the bus as much as possible for an early morning departure.
PHOTOS: Teaching Scholars Leadership Retreat