The way John D’Anieri sees it, modern schools are a bit too insulated from the real world.

D’Anieri is the executive director of Maine Enterprise Schools, which hopes to create schools in which students have daily contact with businesses, and vice versa.

The idea is a variant of experiential schools, such as Portland’s Casco Bay High School, which helps students learn by getting them out of the classroom and into hands-on experiences. For instance, students might spend several days aboard a ship and learn math and geography concepts by working out navigation problems.

D’Anieri would like to see such out-of-class experiences lead to even more real-world skills.

Maine Enterprise Schools, he said, is close to reaching deals with one or more Maine towns to open an enterprise school, which would be a blend of a traditional school and small-business incubator.

An example could involve a restaurant owner who wants to start making and marketing cheese. The restaurant would set up a cheese-making facility in part of the enterprise school building, and students could learn chemistry by figuring out how a liquid — milk — turns to a solid — cheese.

Some students could learn graphic arts by designing a logo and packaging for the cheese, while other students could work on setting up solar panels or windmills to provide power to the cheese operation.

“The place where kids go to school is also the place where adults work and make a living — that’s pretty radical,” D’Anieri said.

At a very basic level, “we’re essentially providing internships and some labor for these businesses,” said Joe Appel, a board member of the organization.

In these cash-strapped times, D’Anieri said, the school would probably cost the same amount to run as a traditional school, especially with some of the education being provided by business people who aren’t earning teaching salaries.

He said some of the startup costs could be covered by federal grants, and the schools would operate in unused buildings, to keep costs down and help revitalize the host communities.

Appel noted that Maine, like several other states, allows for-profit businesses to operate nonprofit units, which would provide flexibility for businesses to set up operations in part of a school.

Maine Enterprise Schools is closing in on getting started, D’Anieri said, looking at a possible location in Bath and discussing the idea with school officials there.

He said Maine Enterprise Schools would like to see Maine law changed to make it easier for students to pick schools outside their towns. Right now, such an arrangement calls for a student’s home community to pay tuition to the school district where the student attends, and requires a pact between superintendents.

Maine Enterprise Schools officials met with potential donors this week to explain the plan and seek support, Appel said, and recently entered into a partnership with LearningWorks, which will help provide support and fundraising expertise.

More information is available at www.mainefarmschool.org, a reference to the organization’s former name, Maine Farm Enterprise Schools, and on D’Anieri’s blog, maineenterpriseschools.blogspot.com.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]