Editor’s note:

Sarah Karlo taught the very first Island School English literature class – which featured the Homeric epic poem Omeros by Nobel laureate Derek Walcott – to 22 pioneer students during the Spring 1999 semester. The demands of that first semester required that teachers assemble furniture and be a crossfit coach as well as nurse and computer repair technician. In some ways things haven’t changed so much, but being the first wasn’t easy. Sarah continued her career as an educator in Florida and returned to campus for the first time in 2016. She shares some of her before and after pictures and reflections on her journey below. If you have memories or reflections on your ‘first’ experiences at Island School, we’d love to hear from you!

Please share your photos, videos, and stories with us

What happened when I came back to The Island School after 17 years? I got inspired to go make change at home and to pilot something new for my community. When I returned to Eleuthera it struck me that Chris and Pam Maxey’s vision had spawned something inspirational, reinvigorating and motivational. I am lucky I got to see The Island School from its inception – and coming back made me want to have a widely awesome impact on a place and people. 

The hard work and the resourcefulness that have taken root in this thriving enclave on the southern end of this beautiful island is real. I must admit that not much felt familiar when I first drove by the school in 2016 and settled into a modern luxury townhouse at Cape Eleuthera Marina’s resort. It wasn’t until I walked down the dock past the Maxey’s townhome that memories drifted back: sitting on the couch learning fish ID with a slide projector, wall-dive excursions off the Maxey back dock, the living quarters that are now only big enough to be a home office – not a bunk space as I remembered they once were. 

Sarah (Seegers) Karlo teaching Omeros to Chris Moore -  Spring 1999

Sarah (Seegers) Karlo teaching Omeros to Chris Moore –  Spring 1999

Talk about a setup for “immediate failure and frustration” as Island School alumnus Carter Brown writes so eloquently in his blog post here. Chris Maxey modeled Carter’s additional insight for all of us pioneers: “slowly, I learned to pace myself.” It took time to build the place the way I see it today – 19 years so far, if you consider all the late nights at The Lawrenceville School in the Maxey’s teacher residence Wayside House doing all the planning. There were failures and frustrations alright. There were Lawrenceville faculty meetings where the innovation and risk taking of The Island School proposal were countered by conservative voices. And there was also a cadre of green-eyed young faculty buoyed by spirited and pioneering veteran faculty pushing Chris’ vision forward.  When you return after 17 years you realize that failure, frustration and perseverance each builds on the other – there’s no easy route to the kind of success The Island School has realized. 

Construction of The Island School dining hall in early 1999, with Sarah's mentor Leita Hamill in the foreground.

Construction of The Island School dining hall in early 1999, with Sarah’s mentor Leita Hamill in the foreground.

There are still reminders of my time: Chris and Pam Maxey, Townhouse 6, nurse sharks at the dock, Mooch and Sheryl, the call to lunch, and the Deep Creek Methodist Church: these were familiar to me. But the sprawling campus with both the Island School and Cape Eleuthera Institute, the Deep Creek Middle School’s deep connection to the community, the new boathouse on campus, the faculty lounge, the large group of people that are now part of ‘the movement’; these were new, inspirational, a vision realized. 

Sarah and Mooch at Sharil's Takeaway

Sarah and Mooch at Sharil’s Takeaway

So, what do you do when you return from a visit to the Island School after 17 years? I was inspired to pilot a new learning experience for a group of 3rd grade boys back home. I couldn’t believe how many people “show up” when you proclaim a need and execute a plan. The Island School challenges the status quo, and inspires you to do the same with whatever your passion or gifts might be. I look back and have reverence for this simple and elemental gesture embodied in The Island School and all it has touched. Thank you to the Maxeys for showing me the important need to challenge, channel and not settle for less than making a positive lasting difference.