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An Island Education: Connecticut Students Take Ferry to Fishers Island Daily

It’s an island off Connecticut’s coast known for its wealthy summer vacationers and world-class rounds of golf, but for the 230 people that live on Fisher’s Island year-round, it’s home.

And Connecticut families are finding it’s a great place for their students to learn despite the great lengths it takes to get there every day.

With a teacher onboard, 30 Connecticut students travel to the Fishers Island School alongside workers and others commuting to the island.

“It’s fun to watch the waves and you get a lot of independence,” said eighth grader Beatrice Barnett.

Oversleeping for these fourth through 12th graders isn’t an option. They have to make the 7 a.m. ferry every morning.

“It builds character and it makes for great college essays,” said Robert Butler, the father of a student from Groton.

The ferry ride from the New London coastline to Fishers Island could take at least 45 minutes or longer depending on the weather. It’s eight miles by boat.

“We have a Spanish midterm today, so we’re studying for that,” said senior Betsy Conger of Stonington.

“We get to play with our friends for a little bit before school,” said Landon, a student from Uncasville.

“I used to get motion sickness when I first came, but I’ve been coming here for six years now, so I’ve gotten kind of used to it,” said Ashley Butler, a senior from Noank.

Travel time alone makes for a tiring school day, but parents said their kids thrive in this unique schooling situation miles from the mainland.

“They have a small class size. They have incredible teachers,” said Butler.

“We have classrooms of four, six, nine, 11 is our biggest. And when you get that type of attention 180 days a year, it changes the outcome of what you learn and what you achieve,” said Fishers Island School Superintendent and Principal Christian Arsenault.

When asked if he ever gets sick of his classmates due to the small class size, senior Sam Walz laughed.

“No. I’m going to say no because they’re all here,” referring to his fellow senior classmates sitting beside him on the ferry.

Even the school’s principal will admit, this small environment isn’t for everyone, but it offers an experience some kids wouldn’t get in a big public school.

“My boys were both captains of the basketball team and that wouldn’t have happened at any other school, said parent Syma Ebbin of Groton. “To be honest,” she said laughing.

And even if their parents were originally concerned with the commute, they now see the ferry as an extension of the classroom.

“They’re absorbing weather, navigation, logistics without even knowing it,” said Fishers Island Ferry District Manager RJ Burns.

On this very different educational voyage, these Connecticut students are sailing away with an island independence.

“It’s a very big change if you come from another school, but it’s very nice, minus the part where you have to wake up very early,” said sixth grader Claire Butler of Noank.

For those living on the island, Fishers Island School is part of their New York public education. The price tag for Connecticut student is about $5,000 a year when you factor in ferry cost. There’s an application process. Learn more about Fishers Island School here.


Dear Mrs. Giles,
I still get the Foghorn and saw in the recent issue that your Biology and Chemistry students had the highest average scores in NY.  That is a wonderful accomplishment and a testament to the level of preparation that you provided.Both of our daughters have mentioned that they were well-prepared for the science classes that they have taken in college and attribute it to the great job that you did getting them prepared.  

Again, Congratulations!
The dad of two FIS alumni

Mr. Dollar,
I wanted to take the time to once again to thank you for the incredible experience that my daughter had at the Eastern Regions concert.  You really went to great lengths to make it happen including a last minute audition plea and driving her to rehearsals and performances.  Your dedication is extraordinary!By the way, I don't know if she told you but she is playing one of the lead roles in the East Lyme Regional Theatre musical "Honk Jr." this weekend.  She has been working really hard at rehearsals and we are so proud of her.

Sincerely, the mom of a freshman student

"Thank you for sharing this with us, Karen. 
Thanks to you and Ms. Giles and all the faculty who work so hard to bring out the best in our kids! It is a great group; we feel very fortunate to have our daughter be part of such a enriching learning community in their class and the school."

Best, the parent of a 9th grade student

"I just wish to say thanks for being such a wonderful host today on Fishers Island. I enjoyed the island tour and the visit to the museum. In addition, I certainly appreciated the opportunity to do my presentation on Imaginary Realms: Rock Art Explorationsfor students at Fishers Island School. And…., I truly enjoyed and appreciated the warm reception that I received for my program. The kids were great and I was quite impressed with their level of knowledge about a wide range of subject matter…! Plus, they asked some great questions. I hope that I was able to trigger their imaginations and to consider the notion of endless possibilities….! It was certainly a fun day. "

George Fellner fellnervisions@gmail.com


"Dear Mr. Dollar:
I wanted to take a minute to tell you last night's concert was outstanding! In the four years since my son has been at FIS, the band and chorus have been great. ..but this year was just phenomenal! ! We are hoping that he joins again next year. .. even if he plays the tambourine and takes over one of the senior's roles:)!...just to be a member and a part of it all. Your talents shine through the students that you teach. Happy holidays.

The parent of a grade 10 student"

"Dear Karen,
We had such a delightful weekend reflecting all the magical moments of the D.C. trip with our daughter. Being the theater girl she is, Oliver was definitely a highlight. She couldn't get over how talented the lead was at such a young age and last night while we were making pumpkin bread to thank the chaperons she was belting out tunes from Oliver.

She was also deeply moved by the 911 memorial and the Holocaust museum. As a parent of a teen, I want my daughter to develop feelings of compassion and empathy and the experiences that you exposed her to help make historical events more real for her. In light of the recent Paris attacks we are reminded about how fragile peace is and how important that we remember what is good and honorable in the world as well as what is tragic.

We are so grateful for caring and enthusiastic community at Fishers Island. Our daughter was so happy to be surrounded by good friends and awesome teachers for 5 days in a row!!! These are memories that she will hold for a lifetime. 

We are truly blessed. Thank you and all the chaperons who make this wonderful trip possible.

The mom of a grade 8 student"

"We just wanted to say thank you for making the first day of school so fun for the students! Our son, a junior in high school, was telling everyone he was so excited for school to start. He came home smiling and couldn't stop talking about his great day! We appreciate all you do to make this happen! You and your staff's enthusiasm carries over to the students!!
Thank you."

"Dear Ms. Goodwin,
It was such a nice awards night last night. Thank you to all the work you all put into making it go so well.
It really was special.

I also wanted to say an extra "Thank you" to the math teacher for giving my son the most improved math pie. Mr. D. has really helped him these last weeks. I was very happy and proud of my children for all the kind awards and certificates you all handed them. Thank you for everything, truly. But, nothing made me and my son happier than that math pie. Please let the teacher know how thankful I am for his patient explanations and willingness to help out the Math program."

" Morning! I just wanted to send an note of thanks to the school for offering the Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) class with NESS over the past two weeks and paying for half the class fee. My daughter has had such a wonderful time doing the class and we really appreciate the school creating these kind of special things for the kids to do. She has had such a wonderful year and I just want you to know how much we appreciate everything all of you have done to make her year so great! If I don't get another chance to see you all, have a wonderful and very relaxing summer!! Thanks so much again! " 
Parent of an FIS 6th Grader 

"Thank you so much for the effort, research and enthusiasm you put into writing such a fine letter for my son. This scholarship application required four letters of recommendation and I am certain your strong letter of support will be noticed. Our family is grateful for your efforts and the work you and your teachers do every day. You and the Fishers Island teachers are amazing people, we are lucky to have you."
From the Father of a Senior

"Hi Ms. A:
Just had to tell you about my daughter and Spanish … Although my daughter took the Spanish ECE course during the Fall semester, Simmons College still requires two semesters of foreign language courses to be taken at Simmons. My daughter will get the ECE credit towards graduation credit requirements but still has to take 2 consecutive semesters of a foreign language.

The good news, which can be attributed to her hard work but more importantly YOU, is that my daughter's Spanish placement test results showed a very high level of competency … The result is that my daughter is not required to take the freshman 100-level courses usually for those that took Spanish in High School. Her placement exam revealed she meets the prerequisite for starting at a 240-level or higher course which is generally for Simmons College sophomores. I believe that this is a great example of YOUR efforts in the classroom with our Fishers Island students. You clearly are helping to prepare our FI students for College. Your efforts are GREATLY appreciated and you should be proud and commended for all your efforts! THANKS!"

Father of a Senior

"Dear Mr.Amaral,
This is Robert Backhaus from down south. I hope all is well and you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I’m contacting you just to touch base and inform you of my progress at Rollins College. (You are more than welcome to share this email with any of the other faculty members.) 

As you know, I’m almost complete with my 3rd semester here at Rollins. My grades have only gone up since the beginning of my college career. I completed my first semester with a 3.0, second with a 3.4, and plan on completing my 3rd semester with a 3.5. Academically, I have performed at the level both my parents and I hoped for.

On another note, I’m not sure if you are aware, but I’m involved in a leadership program at Rollins called the Bonner Leader Program. The Bonner Leader Program is a four-year, cohort-based community service opportunity for students who are passionate about working directly with local non-profit organizations throughout the academic year. The program empowers us to address some of the greatest challenges of our time through community-based learning and service. As a Bonner Leader, I serve 8-10 hours per week within the community and participate in a training and enrichment program to supplement my knowledge and skills. There are six areas that I mainly focus on, social justice, diversity, community building, spiritual exploration, civic engagement, and international perspective. In addition to this service I’m required to work for non-profit of my choosing. Subsequently, if everything falls in the correct place I will be interning at a New England Science and Sailing (NESS). I know that Fishers had some relations with NESS, so I thought you guys would be happy to hear that.

Ultimately, I just wanted to give a hand to the teachers at Fishers for preparing me for the challenges I would face at college. Fishers has given me all the skills needed to strive and succeed in this regard, and I wanted to make sure that proper recognition was given to the people who helped me do it. I really miss all you guys and hope to see you at the Reindeer Games over Christmas break. Have a wonderful holiday, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards, Robert "

"I want to thank you so much for the video taping of the Christmas concert yesterday. I am Katie and Ellie's grandmother; live in Wisconsin, and am also 87 years old, so I don't get to see the grandchildren as much as I would like to. This gave me the opportunity to see Ellie perform and I loved it. I was also able to see her in the play and that was wonderful. Ellie is playing basketball again and as it will be her last year I am hoping that perhaps some of the home games can also be video taped. I was able to see her play once last year and loved it. Thanks again for doing the taping. It gave those of us who were not able to be there in person the experience."

Kay McCarthy

"Hi, I just wanted to pass on that the owners of Fields of Fire were very impressed with all of the students. They found every one extremely respectful and are looking forward to having everyone return in the spring. "

"Being the diligent student that she is, one of our CT young adults got on the 4:45 ferry home and went right to the top deck to do her English homework. Shortly after she pulled a stapled packet of worksheets out of her backpack, a gust of wind pulled them from her grasp. All watched in horror as the papers floated out over the water and Julia sprinted hopelessly toward the railing. Just as everyone began to realize her disappointment, another breeze lifted the homework, and as fast as it flew away, it returned higher, only to be held firmly against the rail outside the captain's cabin. Again we all wondered for a long, slow-motion second, will it stay, or blow away again? In the nick of time an observant deck hand popped out from the captain's door and grabbed it, calmly delivering it to the haggard middle schooler.

Some students say their dog ate their homework, but for students on the Fishers Ferry, there are other homework hazards..."

-Observations from an FIS teacher on the ferry ride home

"We wanted to thank you and all of the Faculty and Staff of Fishers Island School for all that you did to ensure that our daughter received an outstanding education. Thank you all again for the caring and nurturing environment you provided. We were always comfortable knowing that she was in good caring hands at Fishers Island. She is all settled in at Suffolk in Boston and started her classes yesterday and yes she is still smiling! Please enjoy the coffee and pastries that we are sending over. Have a great first day of school. "

With Warmest Wishes,
From the family of a student who graduated in June 2014

"I wanted to let you know about the spring break trip I took to Costa Rica with 5 students from Fishers Island School.

All of them were WONDERFUL.

Each one of them had to overcome both physical and mental challenges, from living without electricity for four days and three nights, to walking for up to 5 hours on the beach at night in the pitch black tracking turtles, to trying new foods and drinks, to meeting new friends. They were all awesome, friendly and open to new challenges. They worked hard on any projects they were given and presented some really awesome research projects while on turtle patrol in Pacuare. They showed the older students (12th grade) that they nicer, smarter and more adaptable to change. It was really neat to watch them go through these challenges and meet them head on.

I really just wanted to you know how impressed I was with your students. They represented themselves, NESS and Fishers Island School well while on their trip to Costa Rica. I hope we can continue to work together in the future as well!"

Mistral Mistral Dodson
Program Director New England Science & Sailing

"I wanted to take just a minute to compliment the school, and each of you, on how well the kids (and even the adults) from FIS comported themselves at the NCAA basketball games this weekend. Although the attendees were different Sunday and Tuesday nights, one commonality was how well everyone behaved. I’m sure that some of the older folks around us were concerned when we trooped in, but I could not have been more proud of the entire group. They watched the game, chatted about it amiably with their friends and those sitting around them, and were not up and down every few minutes running to the concession stand, bathroom, etc.

 You should be very proud of your crew."

 Jim McCarthy

"We want to begin by letting you know how truly grateful we are for the wonderful experiences our children have enjoyed this first term at Fishers Island School. Albeit in quite different ways, they have both been challenged and grown tremendously. We attribute this to the fantastic learning environment the staff, faculty and administration have worked so hard to create and maintain. You have an amazing team at Fishers Island School." -FIS Parents

"Dear FIS School Community:
What a fun evening! Good food, interesting art show, great entertainment! I know how much effort goes into such an event. I wanted to say, 'Thank You!'"

Bravo to All, 
Gail, FI Postmaster

"My daughter fell in love with Fishers Island School the day she visited last year. The faculty, staff and students have all been very welcoming and have helped to make this year's transition seamless. After a full day, my 5th grader returns home energized and excited to share her daily experiences from school, and we cannot thank you enough for creating such a positive atmosphere full of unlimited opportunities."

--Brandi Morrell

"A dedicated space to ponder, reflect, and converse about literacy opportunities that impact teaching and learning"
Beyond Literacy Link

Language Arts consultant, Carol Varsalona, blogs about her day of training Fishers Island Teachers.

" I wanted to thank you for the opportunity for our son to take the stand up paddle board class; he loved it! I was thrilled he got to spend some extra time outside and exercising, something I'm concerned he doesn't do enough of. I know it took some extra effort to arrange for NESS, and I'm very appreciative.

I look forward to checking out the page; I peek at the website every week or so. I've been happy to see how often the photo(s) on the home page are changed; there's always so much going on! Our son has been sharing how fun making the music videos/dances have been this past week, and is anxiously anticipating viewing them!" Mary Ellen Masciale

"I am sure you might respond by saying "it was our pleasure" but ...

Taking the FI School Girls to the UConn game, hosting evening activities and providing them Pizza and then Breakfast is so very much appreciated. Sophie tells us she had a terrific time.

Again, THANK YOU all for what you do! This weekend surely was above and beyond anyone's expectation. Especially the generosity of the Principal opening her home and buying breakfast and her time along with the coaches during the weekend activities with the FI School children. You all contribute to what makes FI School the special place to learn and thrive! THANKS!"

Warm Regards/Marie & Gary Streimer

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