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RCC students muddy their toes on Tangier Island

Blistering heat on June 29 did not discourage a group of Rappahannock Community College students from their scheduled trip to Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake Bay about six miles south of the Maryland-Virginia border. The trip was sponsored by RCC’s Student Support Services program (SSS).

RCC - SSS Visits Tangier Island

RCC - SSS Visits Tangier Island

The SSS students traveled by the daily ferry from Reedville in Northumberland County—exciting in itself, since many of the students had never ridden on a boat before, and of those that had, few had been on a craft of that size. The trip to Tangier took less than two hours. On the way, the students noted several interesting sights, such as the jumping-off place marking the eastward end of United States Route 360, and a mother osprey spreading her wings over her chicks to protect them from the sun.

Upon reaching Tangier Island, the students walked from the docking station to Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House, where they enjoyed a family-style lunch, after which they were free to explore the island. At 1 p.m. they gathered for a tour, led by Anna Pruitt-Parks, of the island’s David B. Nichols Health Center. Less than two years old, the Center memorializes the Lancaster County doctor who faithfully served the people of the island for over 30 years. It employs Pruitt-Parks as its only full-time registered nurse, in addition to a full-time physician’s assistant and medical director, Inez Pruitt. There are three examination rooms, an X-ray room, a small procedure room, and an upstairs apartment for visiting doctors. It is expected that a dentist’s office will soon be added. “This medical center is well equipped,” said a student. “I am impressed—I did not expect this for an island of this size.”

Counselor Tanya Oliver, who accompanied the group with SSS administrative officer Lorraine Justice and SSS administrative assistants Darlene Chamberlain and Karen Lewis, says that the purpose of the visit to Tangier Island was to expose the students to “an environment that was very different from their own. Students were able to see how others live in a different setting, and to become culturally aware of a different dialect. It is quite distinct!” she says. Due to the island’s isolation, the diction and pronunciation of Tangier English have remained largely unchanged since it was settled. Most island residents are descendants of the Crockett family, which maintained the settlement after John Smith founded it. “Visiting Tangier,” says Oliver, “provided our students with a historical perspective.”

The students were also impressed by the contrast between the islanders’ methods of transportation and their own. Only the police have cars; all other residents must walk, bike, or use golf carts, and in order to visit a major shopping area, they must leave the island. “It feels as though I have stepped back in time,” commented one student.

In addition to the tour of the medical center and a visit to the unique “Spanky’s” ice cream shop, students viewed the island’s only post office, and the “Muddy Toes” Library—so named by its sponsor, a new resident who agreed with the local saying, “Once you get your toes muddy on Tangier Island, you’ll never want to leave.” The island has one school, which serves all students from kindergarten through 12th grade; one of the residents told the group that there were three graduates this year.

“Learning about other cultures helps each of us examine our own more closely,” concludes Oliver.

For the 2011-12 academic year, RCC was awarded $293,643 to offer assistance to its students through the Student Support Services program, which was established by the United States Department of Education to help remove social, cultural, and economic barriers to higher education. The program provides RCC students who meet its guidelines with individualized academic and personal counseling, tutoring, and cultural and social enrichment opportunities. The Department of Education makes these services available through the TRIO series of federal grant programs.

Photo: RCC’s Student Support Services program sponsored a trip to Tangier Island on June 29. Students taking part were Odell Bell, Staci Dungee, Travis Scott, and Ashley Trevilian, all of Essex County; Alexandra Kost and Teresa Weaver, Gloucester County; Nadine Banks, King and Queen County; LeShawn Rhodes, King George County; Michelle Taliaferro and Phatima Taliaferro, Middlesex County; Andre Barnes, Northumberland County; Elliot Bibbens, Erlene Coleman, Eric Fallin, James Kilman, and Shanice Rochelle, all of Richmond County; Benzina Street, West Point; and Tara Johnson and Georgia Walters, Westmoreland County.

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