Wednesday, April 23, 2014
FAIRFIELD -- Lisa Sandy is getting a lot of phone calls these days.
Sandy, the admissions director at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, said interest in the school has spiked since Jan. 23, when the Harold Alfond Foundation announced its $10.85 million gift to the Maine Community College System and to Good Will-Hinckley, home of the academy.
Parents and students alike have been seeking more information about the magnet high school that focuses on hands-on learning, agriculture, environmental studies, forestry and workforce and living skills.
Interest was additionally heightened when Gov. Paul LePage lauded the academy in his state of the state address, she said.
Sandy recently sat down with a woman and her 13-year-old daughter who is interested in becoming a game warden. The teen liked the idea of experiential learning and wanted to see if the academy might be a good fit.
Sandy said a number of parents she has spoken with are encouraged that their children are excited about learning. "They're seeing hope for their child," she said.
Glenn Cummings, executive director of Good Will-Hinckley, said parents are relieved to know there's a place for their bright children who haven't flourished in a traditional school setting.
The academy setting is one of forests, fields and gardens. And kitchens, markets, fire departments, farms and garages. And a classroom or two.
The weekday schedule for this year's 20 or so pioneer students is two hours of classes, two-and-a-half hours of individual and group work, and two hours of internships, college coursework or job shadowing. Those who live in a campus cottage also assist with meal preparation and chores.
Students have also been ambassadors for their day and residential academy. From testifying before legislators to meetings with potential donors, students have shared a common refrain about the school: it feels like home.
And school officials say the foundation's gift strengthens the academy's future.
Next fall, the grade nine to 12 academy seeks to enroll 40 students, which would require hiring several more teachers and campus life advisers.
Within a decade, the target student enrollment is 200.
The foundation's financial gift enabled the state's college system to buy about 690 acres from Good Will-Hinckley so that Kennebec Valley Community College can expand its campus, enrollment, staffing and course offerings. With the $4.5 million purchase, the community college acquired Averill/Alfond School, an organic farm, Alfond Recreation Center, Nutter Field House, Moody Memorial Chapel, six residential houses, a garage and a maple sap structure alongside U.S. Route 201.
Community college officials estimate with the added space and facilities that enrollment at the community college could swell from about 2,600 to 5,000.
Cummings said a partnership with Kennebec Valley Community College will be a boon for academy students whose experience will now range from college course to working at the organic farm.
And starting in September, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences will be in session 12 months a year.
Troy Frost, director of education, said because the academy emphasizes agriculture and forestry, it's logical to be in session during harvest season. Produce from the plots will be served in the school cafeteria and the residential cottages. Frost said that next year students will also likely be caring for chickens, goats and other small livestock.
For the 2012-13 school year, Frost said students will attend classes four days a week. A couple of winter vacations will be extended and other traditional breaks, including a week around Independence Day, will be kept so that the number of school days remain the same.
Graduations will be in mid-August and after a break of a few weeks, classes will resume after Labor Day, he said.
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