FAIRFIELD – This September, Cody Buzzell plans to be one of the first students at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences on the campus of Good Will-Hinckley Home for Boys and Girls.
Farmland, barns, greenhouses, walking trails, ponds and sugar shacks will be his classrooms.
Buzzell, a sophomore at Madison Area Memorial High School, said he’s excited to attend the first high school in Maine to offer experiential learning in agriculture, sustainability, forestry, business, alternative energy and the environment.
To get a head start, this summer he’s going to build a coop and raise chickens.
“I learn better with hands-on; I catch on quicker,” Buzzell said.
High school-age students with an interest in hands-on, project-based learning are invited to apply to the state’s second magnet school. The first, the Maine School for Science and Mathematics, is based in Limestone.
To demonstrate their interest, applicants are required to present an educational autobiography depicting where they’ve been, what they’re looking for and what they seek in their future. Education Director Emanuel Pariser said the presentations can be in any number of forms, including essay, collage and song.
Glenn Cummings, president and executive director of Good Will-Hinckley, said the academy will continue the legacy of the Rev. George Walter Hinckley, who founded the school in 1898.
Hinckley, said Cummings, believed the best training for children was to be outside in nature. “It was his deeply held belief that nature has a lot to teach us,” said Cummings.
Cummings, who taught at Gorham High School and was an economics instructor at the University of Southern Maine, is also a former deputy assistant secretary of education in the U.S. Office of Vocational and Adult Education and former speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.
Cummings said the academy will have 25 students during its inaugural year.
This summer, Pariser and Troy Frost, director of education, will design the standards-based curriculum to meet the state’s Common Core/Learning Results expectations. They’ll also shore up the educational staff; a certified agricultural specialist and education technician will be among those hired.
“Student-driven and staff-guided,” was how Frost described each student’s personal learning plan. A typical day, he said, will be divided into two hours of classroom instruction, 2½ hours of individual and group projects, and two hours of classes at Kennebec Valley Community College, job shadowing or interning.