Situated in Narragansett Bay, Prudence Island is a village of the nearby town of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Prudence Island has a year-round population of 150; the summer population is estimated at 1,500. The island is isolated: The only access to Prudence Island is by ferry service from Bristol, 3.5 miles away, or by private boat. The ferry runs, on average, four trips a day, leaving Bristol, Rhode Island at 6:00 and 8:00 in the morning and 3:30 and 5:30 in the evening. Travel time is approximately thirty minutes each way.
Until 2009, the town supported a school on the island, located in a one-room schoolhouse built in 1896 and used almost continuously as a school since. At the Prudence Island School, the town provided on-island education for children in the elementary grades, while students in upper grades traveled by ferry to attend middle and high school in Portsmouth. As costs rose and financial support for schools eroded, island volunteers re-roofed and painted the building, performed custodial duties and donated supplies. In addition, retired island educators taught gym, art, and music, all in an attempt to make it possible for the school to remain open as a public education facility. In 1995 an informal community fund-raising organization, The Friends of Prudence Island Students (FOPIS), was formed to support extracurricular activities at the school.
The Prudence Island School Foundation (PISF) was formed in 2009 to engage in activities and raise funds to support the perpetual existence of the last active one-room school house in the state of Rhode Island, thereby ensuring that the young children of Prudence Island could be educated within their community.
On July 29, 2009, the PISF entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Portsmouth School Committee and the town of Portsmouth. As a result of the MoU, the PISF took on the role of providing support for Prudence Island families who opt to educate their children on the island, rather than send them across the bay for elementary school. In exchange, the Portsmouth Town Council agreed to contribute a per-student dollar amount to the PISF for each of those elementary aged children who are educated on Prudence Island.
Under the MoU, the Prudence Island School Foundation became responsible for the complete education framework, including developing and implementing educational plans, researching and purchasing curricula, assessing progress and reporting to state and local authorities.
At the time, it was immediately apparent to the Foundation that there was a need to provide services for pre-school and middle and high school students as well, so it determined to fill that need and secure the funding to do so through individual solicitations to friends and supporters and fundraising events. The Foundation also runs a Summer Program that provides educational and community-building activities open to all children on the Island during the summer months.
The Prudence Island School Foundation officially opened its educational support program on September 9, 2009 with a paid Rhode Island certified elementary educator as the PISF’s Education Coordinator, as well as a Curriculum Committee made up of educator-volunteers certified in elementary and secondary education. It has since provided for a paid Program Coordinator position to teach middle- and secondary-level students, and a paid Administrative Assistant. The program is based in the historic Prudence Island Schoolhouse.