CRANBERRY ISLES, Maine — On Saturday, three students celebrated completing 8th grade in the first graduation ceremony on Great Cranberry Island in 17 years. One of them was a homeschooled student who didn’t attend classes at the school.
The Cranberry Islands are a cluster of five offshore islands south of Mount Desert Island. Only two of them, Great Cranberry Island and Little Cranberry Island have year round populations totalling about 100 residents between the two.
Seventeen years ago Great Cranberry celebrated its most recent graduation at Longfellow School, the island’s tiny two-room schoolhouse.
Keith and Heath Wedge were the only students to attend Longfellow in 1999 and 2000, keeping the schoolhouse open in the face of a steadily declining enrollment. But with Keith’s graduation, Heath moved on to Pemetic School in Southwest Harbor, leaving Great Cranberry’s school empty for the first time since it was established in the mid-1800s.
“It’s been something that’s been missing from the community since then,” said Lindsay Eysnogle, principal of the Cranberry Island schools. “There’s a feeling of loss in such a small community when the school isn’t open.”
Since the Wedges left, students from both Cranberries have attended the Ashley Bryan School on Little Cranberry Island. But Great Cranberry residents hoped that one day their old schoolhouse would be revived, and the town continued to maintain the building in the event that more students arrived.
It finally happened this past school year, when the town renovated the Great Cranberry school building and its school board decided that the two islands would take turns hosting students, Eysnogle said. After next school year at Longfellow, classes will be held on Little Cranberry for two years, before returning to Great Cranberry to repeat the cycle.
This year two Longfellow students graduated and were joined by one homeschooled student who finished 8th grade. Another homeschooled student on the islands graduated as well, but didn’t attend the ceremony.
Eleven island students attended classes at Longfellow school this year. Next year, that’s expected to swell to as many as 14 students, according to Eysnogle. Students who have to travel between islands for school take a 10-minute ferry ride and then hop into a van that takes them to the schoolhouse.
The schools are expected to have a pretty stable population in coming years, with several families with 3- and 4-year-olds living on the island. Eysnogle said she expects the population to hover between 11 and 20 students for at least the next five years.
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