FREEPORT — While most high school sophomores load backpacks and take the bus to school every day, 13 girls across the country packed duffel bags in February to go to school in Freeport for 16 weeks.
Coastal Studies for Girls welcomed the pioneer class on Valentine’s Day, and the participants haven’t stopped since.
The school is the country’s first residential science and leadership semester school for 10th grade high school girls. The vision of a small group has been transformed into a campus on a piece of the 626-acre Wolfe’s Neck Farm.
The girls live in a newly renovated 160-year-old farmhouse. Their learning occurs partly in the classroom, but is mostly experiential.
Since their arrival, executive director Pam Erickson said the girls have been engaged in course work Monday through Thursday, with full day field trips and overnights reserved for Sundays.
Their mornings consist of course work in English, history, math and foreign language to keep up with regular high school requirements. Afternoons are filled with hands on activities focused on marine science and leadership skill building, she said.
“The pioneer group is absolutely amazing,” Erickson said of the 13 girls representing seven states.
While one girl has traveled from as far as southern California, there are a couple girls representing Maine as well.
J’rae Mendall of Litchfield is attending Coastal Studies for Girls as a way to meet new people, learn and grow. As a home-school student, she thought it would be fun to “come and explore.”
“I do a lot of hands-on things at home, but we do more outside work and in the field sort of things here,” she said, like trips to the water’s edge to study barnacles and rock weed. “The hands-on approach is one of my favorite ways to learn.”
So far, she has enjoyed the trip to the University of New England’s Animal Rehabilitation Center. The group saw porpoises, sea turtles and different species of seals in the center and were able to talk to staff about current research projects.
“It was neat to see those animals and see how science is directly affecting them,” Mendall said.
For Cassandra Hopkins, coming off the island of Vinalhaven was a learning experience itself. Having grown up in the small community, she said making the decision to leave home for the semester was not easy, but it was something she knew she would regret if she didn’t.
“I’d really like to just be able to know that I have it in me to reach outside of the box and accomplish anything I can set my mind to,” she said, which is why the leadership aspect of this school is so important.
The first weekend, Hopkins said the group traveled to New Hampshire to complete a high ropes course. She said it took a strong sense of trust to complete the tasks, especially since they had only known each other for a week.
“Our ultimate goal is that students return to their schools and communities with a heightened sense of what it means to excel as an individual and a member of a community,” Erickson said. “Regardless of the careers they choose, girls will leave our program feeling stronger, more empowered, and better prepared to make a difference in the world.”
Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: [email protected]