June 12, 2011

Hands-on kind of student digs lot deeper than most

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND -- Emma Robinson broke some ground at Casco Bay High School, literally and figuratively.

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Casco Bay High School

She was the first student to lead an "intensive" at the school, which is a week-long focused exploration of a subject involving the whole school. And her leadership led to the creation of a community garden which, this fall, should provide lots of fresh local vegetables for the school's lunches.

Robinson spent her freshman year at Deering High School and then switched to Casco Bay High because she liked its emphasis on exploratory, hands-on learning.

"Every project involves some real-world application," she said, and the school allows students to move along at their own pace and delve deeper into subjects that interest them.

For Robinson, that subject was sustainable agriculture, which she studied and researched first as a junior.

When it came time to pick her senior expedition focus, she wanted to see her research lead to real change by working with the school district to use more locally grown food in the lunch program. She soon realized that bureaucracy can thwart even the high level of energy a high school senior can muster.

"I found out that's not a process that you do in a single year," she said.

As she talked with teachers and fellow students about how to refocus her project, a classmate suggested doing something that would create a change at the school itself. At about the same time, a teacher noted that the school allowed students to lead an intensive, although none had ever done so.

Those two ideas came together for Robinson, who led the April intensive by having students talk to people involved with community gardens or sustainable agriculture before creating four raised beds behind the school.

Students planted strawberries, asparagus, bush beans, tomatoes and other vegetables.

Robinson won't be around for the harvest -- she'll be attending Bard College in New York -- but she thinks the garden will be growing vegetables for a while.

"I knew community gardens are easy to start but then sometimes fade," she said, adding that the younger students seem involved enough to keep it going next year and beyond.

Robinson was elected as the student speaker at the school's graduation and she spoke of how her class was transformed from a group of "stubbornly independent" students into an interconnected group.

"I thought leaving high school would be really awesome -- and it is -- but it's really hard to leave Casco Bay High," she said. "I love my school."


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