By Tom Groening
Islesboro has a personal and professional hold on Jon Bolduc, and for good reason, as he explains. Bolduc, 31, moved with his family to the Penobscot Bay island when he was a child.
“My mom and dad were both teachers,” he explains. “They got positions the same year” at the Islesboro Central School. “We moved out in 1990, my two sisters and I. I was going into kindergarten then.”
Bolduc graduated from the island school in 2003 and then went to college at the University of Maine at Farmington. He taught at Carrabec High School in North Anson, near Skowhegan, for four years.
“This will be my fourth year teaching here,” he said.
IJ: This school is unusual in that it draws mainland students, and its reputation is excellent, but I wonder: Are there any drawbacks, educationally—and you can speak to this personally or professionally—growing up on an island?
Bolduc: There are drawbacks, obviously, with small class sizes and a small community. As a student, sometimes our options can be limited, both socially and maybe athletically. We have a soccer team, but that’s it, for the fall. We have a basketball team, but that’s it for the winter. That could be a little bit of a downside.
On the flip side of that, it could be a good thing: Because we are so small, we can create opportunities with different pathways for students. Right now, we have a kid working with Dark Harbor Boat Yard on 700 Acre Island. Every other day, he’s out there, working with them. It’s kind of an internship. He’s a sophomore, and has been really interested in boats.
There are those opportunities that arise with such a small school. You can really focus on the individual, and it’s difficult for them to slip through the cracks, which is great.
Socially, as a young teenager growing up, you’re going to have fights with your friends, but you have to make it work, because there’s nobody else. That’s kind of a good, lifelong skill that I’ve always taken away from it. You have disagreements, you’ve got to work them out, which is a life skill.
IJ: You teach math. And your wife also teaches here?
Bolduc: She does. She’s a K-through-one teacher. It’s funny; both of these positions opened up the same year, so we moved out here.
IJ: Are there particular challenges to teaching math to kids? Maybe not so much on Islesboro, but on islands like Vinalhaven, many of the kids want to go and fish. What are the challenges you face in making math relevant to your students?
Bolduc: One of the biggest challenges is that you have such a wide range of students in the same classroom. Just trying to differentiate one lesson, trying to teach it three or four different ways for three or four different levels, to really challenge the students that are really getting it and understanding it, but still working with those kids that are struggling to understand the concepts—that’s one of the hardest things to do.
I teach everything from pre-algebra all the way up to calculus. It’s a lot of different subject matter. I was a math major in college; I can handle that pretty easily. But within the classroom, even though there are small classes—ten students is a big class here—among those ten students, you’re going to have such a wide range. Trying to fulfill each individual student’s needs is probably the greatest challenge of a teacher.
But at the same time, you have so much individual time with them—maybe not during class, but built into the schedule. We have this “academy time,” where they can come meet with you, so it’s a lot of one-on-one, which is great.
IJ: Okay, a more personal question: Are you an extrovert or an introvert, and how does island life fit your personality type?
Bolduc: I’m an introvert. I can’t believe Shey [Conover, the Island Institute’s vice president of programs, and an Islesboro resident] suggested me for this interview. I’ve got to have a talk with her [laughs].
It’s good and bad. On the island, you can easily do nothing, sit at home, and be fine. But that’s not the lifestyle I want to live.
This community’s very supportive. I don’t feel out of place. I’m an introvert, but I like to go and do things, but . . . I guess I’m reserved.
IJ: So it gives you the space to do that.
Bolduc: Yeah. I would much rather hike around Turtle Head than go to the mall or go to the club.
IJ: How much interaction do you have with summer folks?
Bolduc: A fair amount. Growing up, I had a lot of interaction, because I worked at the golf course. My summer job now is landscaping, so I’ve worked for a couple of summer folks doing that. I’ve also done some tutoring of summer kids.
Even with the summer community, it’s pretty close-knit. You run into them at the store and talk to them. For the most part, they’re all very accessible. I know they do a lot for the school, so that’s nice.
IJ: Have you ever met summer residents John Travolta or Kirstie Alley?
Bolduc: Yeah. I haven’t really “met” John Travolta. I saw him once in the Dark Harbor Shop; he shook my hand. I don’t know why, but he did [laughs]. He just looked at me and said, “Hi!”
Kirstie Alley . . . Growing up, my older sister used to go over and [Kirstie] would do her and her friends’ hair and makeup, and dress them up. She used to come to basketball games. She was really involved in the community.
My parents were building our house, and we had to get out of the house we were living in, and so we were living in a tent in the backyard. And of course, in the summer, it was rainy . . . She just came by one day and threw us the keys to her guesthouse that’s up by the ball field, which she had at the time, and said, “Stay as long as you want!”
And so my whole family got to live there; that’s just the type of person she was. She’s not around as much as she used to be. She was very generous.
IJ: Do you think about whether your young daughter would come back to the island, or is that too far off to think about?
Bolduc: I think that’s too far off. I’m not going to push that on her either way. Whatever she wants. I think it’s going to be a great place for her to grow up. From there, we’ll see. Maybe she’ll become a lobsterman, I don’t know [laughs].
IJ: There’s no real real downtown, village center here. Does that inhibit community cooperation, or . . . ?
Bolduc: There’s a fair amount of collaboration, cooperation. There’s the Islesboro Community Center, which was built six or seven years ago. They do a lot of great things. They do a lot of summer programs.
I always thought it would be neat to have that kind of downtown, like when you go to North Haven and Vinalhaven. But I don’t think I really miss that aspect. I don’t think it hurts the community spirit at all.
I laugh when people come over on the ferry in the summer and they’re walking and they ask where to go. They’re not going to make it very far.
IJ: How often do you go to the mainland?
Bolduc: Maybe every other weekend, for groceries, whatnot. Sometimes it ends up being every week.
J: Last question: Do you ever think about moving off-island?
Bolduc: Yes. And I don’t think I want to. We moved out here just to give it a try. We both moved here because of the dream scenario, the dream positions. We had talked about it, [my wife] Becky and I, but we knew it wouldn’t happen unless two positions opened in the same year, and that happened.
We really enjoy the school. I love the community. The kids are great out here. I couldn’t ask to teach any better kids. So considering moving off, I have a really hard time thinking about wanting to teach anywhere else.
A teacher asked me that question, and my answer was, “I wouldn’t be a teacher if I moved off.” And what the heck else would I do [laughs]?