From The Atlantic
Published October 11, 2016
By Tanya Paperny
Three hours from Portland, Maine, and two hours from the state capital of Augusta, picturesque Deer Isle has two towns on it (Deer Isle and Stonington), a combined year-round population of about 2,500 people, and not a single fast-food chain—or any chain store for that matter. Those who live beyond the narrow, turquoise suspension bridge connecting Deer Isle to the mainland are called PFAs (“people from away”), even if they work or attend school on the island.
At the southern end of the predominantly middle-class, overwhelmingly white island lies a small but bustling harbor. In 2015, Stonington port brought in $63.8 million worth of lobster, landing it the title of Maine’s no. 1 commercial fishing port. The influence of maritime culture is evident at every turn: The local convenience store opens at 3:30 a.m. in the summers to accommodate early-to-rise fishermen. Above the entrance hangs a mural of one of these men in trademark yellow, waterproof overalls. Driving down the island’s main thoroughfare, Route 15, one sees rectangular lobster traps piled by the dozen in front yards, draped with multicolored fluorescent buoys. Residents are protective of their island culture, and fittingly, the rocky granite shores that meet East Penobscot Bay can sometimes be covered in a thick, dramatic fog.
This maritime culture isn’t just for adults. It seems as though every single young person here works full time in the summer, and those who aren’t on fishing boats or in related maritime jobs work at the ice-cream stands, seafood shacks, and art galleries that open to accommodate tourists and seasonal residents. In fact, some students here can make more money fishing in one summer, when lobsters are most active, than their teachers can make in a year. Says a longtime local high-school teacher and island native, Terrance Siebert: “A student we had five years ago could already pay $40K to put a new motor in his boat.” Certainly not everyone on Deer Isle fishes, but that work fuels the local economy.
This entrepreneurialism makes Deer Isle a special place. “In many rural communities, everyone dreams of leaving. Not here,” says Paul Sacaridiz, the director of a local arts institution.
But getting young people to stay in school is another story. At the island’s only high school, Deer Isle-Stonington High School (DISHS), there has been a sense among some students that school is just standing in the way of going off and making money, and some of their parents see school as basically a lousy babysitter.
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