Last summer I was waiting in line in Woods Hole to get on the Island Home, headed for Vineyard Haven. And I couldn’t help noticing about 20 or 30 Vineyard kids getting on at the same time, all from Falmouth Academy. And I couldn’t help thinking about these kids, whose daily lives are bookended by 45-minute rides on the ferry, and how that affected their lives. How did they balance their friendships — both with their Vineyard friends whom they grew up with, and with the new friends they made at FA?
I wanted to learn about these kids whose feet were planted on two shores, see what their lives were like, and see what effect being tethered to a ferry had on them. I began by reaching out to Amy Galvam, director of communications at Falmouth Academy. She told me that this year they are having a banner year of M.V. students at Falmouth Academy, with 40 out of the total FA student population of 197 being from the Island. That alone caught me by surprise. Falmouth Academy is an independent day school for students in grades seven through 12. On Monday, we arranged for me to take the 7 am boat from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole and talk to some of these kids for myself.
Walking onto the boat I struck up a conversation with Alex deChiara, a seventh grader from Tisbury. I asked him point-blank — was having a 45-minute boat ride on both ends of your daily commute to school a good thing or a bad thing? And he gave me an answer that was pretty consistent with many other kids I talked to. Alex said that “getting up early to get on the 7 am boat [an up-Island kid might have to get up around 5:30 am] can get a bit tiring, but it gives you a chance to meet with your friends and to study, either by yourself or in groups.” So on balance, many thought it was a good thing.
Where things get a bit dicier was when kids were involved with extracurricular activities. FA students in grades 7 through 9 are required to participate in afterschool activities, such as athletics, drama, or photography. So, for instance, a game in Nantucket can stretch into a long day — but then the same could be said for a Vineyard kid traveling to away games. In the case of a play, some kids will just sleep over at mainland FA kids’ houses.
I spoke with Ana Kurelja, Sebastian Alexander, Matthew Coggins, and Landon Cormie, all seniors, and Landon said, “When we were younger, it was fun and unique and different to be on the boat, but now, after six years, the novelty has kind of worn off. The only good thing now is that during the Derby I get to go up on deck and see where people are catching fish.”
Admittedly all four of these kids had an expanded worldview — each of them had spent the previous year studying abroad; in Landon’s case he was in Sweden, going to school and sailing. He is currently campaigning for the U.S. Olympic sailing team. Others were studying languages. I asked if they were doing this through Falmouth Academy, and they said they were doing it on their own. When I naively asked why they would do that, they looked at me incredulously as if to say, “Why wouldn’t we do that?”
I talked to many of the kids about where their friends came from. Were they their old Vineyard friends or their new Falmouth Academy friends? When Wyatt Thornton first started at Falmouth Academy, he and some of his friends thought that “we would lose connections with all our public school friends, but that just never happened,” he said.
Many kids found that their FA friends would come to visit them on the weekends, and they integrated with their Vineyard friends. Many kids also referred to their Falmouth Academy friends as their “Cape friends,” since Falmouth Academy is a day school and the students come from all over the Cape — even as far as Duxbury and Mattapoisett. This makes establishing relationships after school hours even more difficult.
Sebastian Alexander said that it’s nice to have Falmouth Academy and Martha’s Vineyard High School friends, since, “We live on a tiny Island, and we get a chance to see new friends and be exposed to much more diverse people.” One thing Sebastian has noticed is that the academics at FA tend to be more vigorous, and you’re surrounded by people who want to excel. That brings out the best in you as well, he said. Wyatt said that FA is a great place to step out of the box. “Everyone is very welcoming,” he said. ”You know pretty much everyone— that’s probably not the same at a big school like MVRHS.”
On the other side of the coin, a group of kids seated together which included Story Taylor, Dillon Fondren, and Harley Snowden said that it’s not uncommon for FA kids to return to MVRHS for their junior and senior years. The group explained that since the academics are harder at FA, they can go into honors classes and get better grades on the Vineyard. Some may just tire of the commute, others miss the socialization of a bigger student body, and others may want to compete in a higher level of athletics. But it does happen.
So did I get a glimpse of what it’s like for kids commuting to Falmouth Academy every day? What I found was a group of kids who were bright, respectful, self-aware, and some of the nicest kids you’d ever want to meet, either on land or at sea.
So whatever it is they’re doing — keep at it.