Kaitlyn O’Donnell, the teacher at the one-room schoolhouse on Monhegan Island, felt drawn to live and work on the island when she was hired in August 2020.
On Friday, March 13, 2020, under a full moon, COVID-19 arrived in Maine. That same day, O’Donnell was informed by her landlord that she had to move out of her home and was also notified by the school she was working at in Colorado Springs that there was no longer room for her position in the budget.
“This is the universe telling me that I shouldn’t be in Colorado anymore,” O’Donnell said of the experience.
Instead of returning to her hometown of Falmouth just to visit, O’Donnell decided to start looking for jobs.
“(It’s) a lot of serendipity,” O’Donnell said during an interview outside the school on Friday, July 22. “I’ve heard from a lot of other people who live on the island that it’s some kind of draw to Monhegan. It picks and pulls people to be here.”
O’Donnell’s family had taken a trip to Monhegan Island in 2018 and even texted her pictures of the schoolhouse, saying “wouldn’t it be funny if you worked here?”
“I saw it and thought, ‘this is incredible,’” O’Donnell said of the job opening.
O’Donnell’s first year was very “COVID-centric” and involved online teaching in the morning and outdoor education in the afternoon, rain or shine. In November when the weather started to get colder, the students moved inside, allowing for more consistency.
Her first year also involved a lot of figuring out how to live on an island approximately 12 miles off the Maine coast.
“Like how to get groceries in the wintertime, how to use my wood stove, how to trudge here in the snow,” O’Donnell said.
The second year became a little easier once O’Donnell got to know the students and their families. She had three of the same students from last year, four in total — two fourth graders, a sixth grader, and one pre-kindergarten student.
O’Donnell acknowledged that it is a challenge educating students in different age groups, with some group instruction being applied for writing and reading and individual instruction mostly for math. For instance, if the class is learning about the topic of character in writing, she will teach the same thing and have the students do individual assignments concerning that topic.
“So we’re learning about the same things, but at different levels,” O’Donnell said.
Another challenge of the one-room schoolhouse is essentially serving as secretary, principal, and representative to the school board, in addition to being a teacher.
“You’re wearing a lot of different hats,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell always knew she wanted to be a teacher since she began working as a camp counselor at 14.
Working in camps and classrooms, O’Donnell got to see “how wonderful the teachers’ relationships with the kids were and how much the kids were learning and growing.”
“I thought teaching was something that I could do and be good at and be happy with for the rest of my life,” O’Donnell said.
She then attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs before going to work at Mountain Vista Community School in that city.
Living on Monhegan Island is not for the faint of heart. It takes grit, hard work, and determination. O’Donnell also works at the Monhegan Store and Monhegan Brewing Co. in the summer.
She said is grateful for the dedication of the parents and the students and their commitment to education.
“The students and the parents put in a lot of work to help them be the best kids they can be,” O’Donnell said. “I’m really glad it’s a whole team effort to help these students.”