An Island Education

By JOnathan Eastwood, features editor

As the island’s only school, Grand Isle School serves not only to educate its students, but also as an example of the community’s deep-rooted culture and traditions.

“Grand Isle School is so much [a] part of the community that it’s almost seamless,” says Principal Christine Templet.

“Grand Isle School is so much [a] part of the community that it’s almost seamless.”

— Principal Christine Templet

Grand Isle School’s staff returned to work on March 15, and students returned for classes on March 17 for the first time since Hurricane Ida hit August 29, 2021. The school has been operating virtually since October 1.

Students say they are excited to return to the routine and social aspects of face-to-face education, and many say they prefer in-person classes to virtual learning.

“It’s easier for me to watch and follow along [in person] than going onto a different screen and going back and forth,” says senior Emma English.

Emma English prefers being at school not only for a better learning experience but also for the interactions she has with her classmates. Since Grand Isle School is fairly small – 40-50 students – the students are all friendly with one another.

“I’m not scared to go up and ask someone – one of my classmates – for help, or just to talk to someone,” she says.

Much like the close relationship among students, Grand Isle residents have a culture of strong bonds to their land and fellow inhabitants. Julie English, a social studies and English-language arts teacher, says students whose families lost their homes in the storm are set on returning to the island as soon as possible.

“I believe that they will come back when there’s an island to come back to,” Julie English says.

Grand Isle School’s sports program, specifically basketball, is yet another aspect that connects the school’s culture to the island’s. Many of the island’s residents frequent basketball games, which have become a staple of Grand Isle culture. However, due to Hurricane Ida, basketball was discontinued for the remainder of the school year, allowing students to focus more on their studies.

“I’m sure basketball season was sorely missed,” Julie English says.

The school opened in the early 1940s, and had its first graduating class in 1947. Photos of each year’s graduates line the cafeteria walls. The school teaches all grade levels, from Pre-K through 12 grade.

Certain graduates have such a strong connection to the school that they returned to work there as adults. Templet counted six current staff members who are former Grand Isle School students.

Templet has been principal for the past four years. She says she found it easy to take over the role because of the staff’s enthusiastic adherence to tradition, as well as their willingness to learn.

“They had a lot of traditions – a lot of excellent routines – that we adopted,” Templet says. “The teachers are eager to learn and eager to try new things to improve their practice.”

The culture of unity and perseverance that permeates the school and the entire island prepares the residents to stand together, regardless of the circumstances, she says.

“They’re very resilient – the entire community is resilient.