Fishers Island School and Lake Wales High School Student Exchange Experience

by Jane Ahrens

By Karen Loiselle Goodwin, Superintendent/Principal, Fishers Island School
November 2016

The Fishers Island community’s interest in and generosity to our school never ceases to amaze me.

Case in point: After hearing from Harry and Ellen Parker about the success of last year’s first-ever Exchange Program with students from Spain, Lake Wales, Florida-Fishers Island resident Henry McCance proposed an Exchange to the schools in each of his two communities. He asked: Would a similar Exchange between Fishers Island School (FIS-68 students) and Lake Wales High School (LWHS-1,500 students) be a valuable educational and cultural experience? To debate the question, Henry arranged for the talented LWHS principal, Donna Dunson to meet with me this summer. We spent five wonderful hours identifying and discussing the benefits and challenges of an exchange and concluded that it had the potential to be an invaluable opportunity for our students to gain independence and experience life and learning in a community much different from their own. We enthusiastically shared our recommendation with Henry who eagerly embraced our proposal and generously offered to finance it. We determined that up to twelve sophomores/juniors from each school would be selected through an identified process to participate in the program.

Then the detailed planning began. On our end, I immediately formed a committee of teachers to help structure the academic components of the exchange, and students and parents worked closely with me to plan special community events for the LWHS group for their visit the week of October 22nd-29th. The twelve students, many of whom who had never before ridden a ferry, and five school chaperones arrived on the 7:00 PM on a dark and super-windy, rainy evening. Thankfully Principal Dunson had heeded our advice to pack and administer Dramamine to anyone with motion sickness, so all were okay. They loved the small greeting party comprised of the Klimczaks, Kucseras, and Principal Goodwin holding a large welcome banner and cheering as their vans drove off the boat. More of our island students later met our guests at the McCance home on North Hill for a spectacular welcome meal…the perfect start to an incredible week.

Principal Donna Dunson called the experience “life changing” for her students. What I enjoyed observing was the cohesiveness that almost instantaneously formed between our guests and host students and families. After just one week, the Fishers Island parents were tearfully hugging their Lake Wales “children” goodbye, with invitations to come back and stay longer in the summer. Our students who are applying for participation in a visit to Lake Wales during our February vacation can’t wait to reunite with their new friends.

It was important to our student hosts that our guests experience as much as possible that is “uniquely Fishers”, especially an evening beach fire…even in late October! As you’ll see from the highlights below, none of these special events could have happened without the help of parents and community members.

Our Lake Wales friends especially enjoyed:

  • hearing the island’s history from Pierce Rafferty and tour the Ferguson Museum
  • an island bus tour with Meg Atkin
  • the hands-on learning and discussion opportunities in their small Fishers Island classrooms
  • creating a wonderful east-end road painting to commemorate the experience
  • bowling, pool and foosball at the community center, thanks to Liz Burnham
  • the chance to jump on a blue bus and do ocean experiments in science class as planned by Carol Giles
  • a spectacular buffet welcome meal for all guests and host families served up by Chef Busse
  • discovering the seals and other natural treasures with the Conservancy’s naturalist, Justine Kibbe
  • the pre-movie taco dinner served up by Fishers Island moms, Linda Mrowka, Robin Toldo, and Michele Klimczak
  • seeing a scary Halloween-themed movie at the Island Theater thanks to members Jess Hall and Meg Atkin
  • a South Beach campfire thanks to John Klimczak, Pastor Karl, Nick Hall, and Craig Mrowka
  • spirited after-school volleyball competitions led by Mike George
  • great customer service from Jamie and Heather at The Beach Plum and even the two church thrift shops, thanks to Mary Ski and Mary P.
  • a Friday night Halloween costume dance in fabulously-decorated school gym, thanks to our Student Council!

The Exchange officially culminated on Saturday with a special tour of Yale University campus, provided by three wonderful college student guides as arranged by Mr. McCance. Our students were in awe of the campus, the architecture, Yale’s vast resources including world-class museums and libraries, a huge brunch spread in the student dining room, and the feeling of camaraderie among the university’s students.

As I was driving the Fishers Island participants back to the ferry after our full day at Yale, the students chattered happily for most of the trip about their own goals and aspirations for post-secondary education after graduation from FIS. Henry had planned the Yale trip in the hopes that it would inspire our students…mission accomplished, Mr. McCance!

The Exchange couldn’t have happened without our Board of Education’s support and our School families opening their homes to the Lake Wales students, who affectionately referred to their Fishers Island moms as their “den mothers”. Thank you to the Klimczak, Walker, Shillo, Scumaci/Morrissey, Basile, Mrowka, and Hall families for their wonderful hospitality.

Click any photo to see a larger image.

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay . Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

A Fishers Island Community Center Program and the accompanying Fog Horn eNewsletter serve as the communications resource for the Fishers Island community. The content – news, calendar, links and photos, milestones, ads, and more create a clear image of Fishers to those on and off the island.

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