The Strategy: Place-Based Imagination

Everyone has heard of local food and local history – but a trip to North Haven Island, 12 miles off the midcoast, introduces you to the idea of “local” or place-based imagination. A community of under 400 people supports an accredited K-12 community school that is housed in a building completed in 2008, beautiful enough to inspire a generation of scholars, community spirits and re-dedicated island eccentrics. At the ferry landing is Waterman’s Community Center – a once-upon-a-time general store converted into a cultural center serving up everything from hot coffee for a freezing ferry ride, to an auction of buoy art, to performances of community dance, theater, and music productions. And nestled into that same space is the local Head Start Center, making Waterman’s a place where the whole town sees its next generation growing. www.watermans.org. In this community, adults and children alike are intensely aware of drawing on -- and giving back to -- their particular environment:

Art and social studies classes across the elementary school collaborated on an interdisciplinary unit entitled “Where have all the fish gone?” in which young people, working with their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, investigated the evolution of the fishing industry and what it has meant to life and culture of the island.

Older students have built traditional wooden dories typical of the Penobscot fishery and raced them as far away as Boston.

An integrated unit for high school students was created that included the design and building of a toboggan and was raced in the International Toboggan race on the mainland at the Camden Snow Bowl.

Each year the school works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to re-assemble the skeleton of a large fish or sea mammal that has been found. Following a ceremony, each new skeleton is hung under the eaves of the school porch.

The school has just opened the first section of a new projects building. High school students did a presentation on their “expedition” to the Shelter Institute while our grades K - 8 students displayed photos of their “expeditions” focusing on “shelter” in all its forms.  Passamaquoddy elder Allen Sockabasin performed a native American “smudging ceremony” to purify the new building.

Older students collaborate with the local historical society. Older residents teach the next generation about the earlier island life, while students are helping to digitize fragile documents in the collection. Throughout the school, there are large format prints of North Haven then and now.

As part of their final year, high school seniors take on a research project. Last year, students investigated Plum Creek, a major land development in northern Maine. From their research, writing, and discussions they used the lessons from Plum Creek to determine what the implications were for long-term development on North Haven.


In the right hands, creativity can initiate a self-perpetuating cycle, particularly in a semi-closed environment. On North Haven there is constant interaction between creative and innovative adults and the community’s young people. The adults create opportunities for exploration and innovation and then honor and appreciate the results. This, in turn, builds student confidence and skills for the next undertaking. As these students grow up, the cycle perpetuates itself as the older students and graduates encourage creativity in the younger students. North Haven may not be at the center of every universe, but it is at the center of our own creative cosmos, and thanks to the hard and inspiring work of many island adults and children, that is where it will stay. – from North Haven’s IIC application 

I taught on North Haven 40 years ago. My second year the state wanted to consolidate the schools with those on the mainland. The community organized to keep that from happening. They argued they could offer their children a unique, island education that they could not get anywhere else, USA.  Coming back to the island, you see how the community absolutely made good on that promise.  – Dennie Palmer Wolf, site visitor to North Haven

We are a small community, with small schools. Our promise has to be that we offer every one of our students the richest possible education with the resources that are uniquely ours – our landscape, the surrounding ocean, our history as an enduring island community, the network where your English teacher might also be a local musician and direct you – and the minister and the postmistress, in the upcoming play. – Barney Hallowell, Principal of the North Haven School

To think about
North Haven is encouraging their young people to return to the island in spite of the cost of living since North Haven is a desirable location for summer residents. They are looking at creative ways so younger citizens can find affordable housing and return to the island or establish year round residency.

Waterman's Community Center

North Haven Community School

North Haven Historical Society

north haven
Deer Isle 1
shelter institute
shelter institute
plum creek
photo class