Graduating senior Thomas Crimmins stands on Harpswell Coastal Academy’s Brunswick campus, which will close at the end of this school year. John Terhune / The Times Record

During this spring’s extended fight over the fate of Harpswell Coastal Academy, administrators argued the charter school was a vital alternative for kids who didn’t fit in the traditional education system. Some students unable focus through hourlong history lectures, they said, could still thrive in a more flexible, engaging environment.

At two separate meetings of the Maine Charter School Commission, skeptical board members debated this theory. All the while, Harpswell Coastal Academy senior Thomas Crimmins, equipped with a camera, editing software and an idea, was proving it true.

Harpswell Coastal Academy, which will remain open next year after receiving permission from the commission to consolidate its two campuses, will hist its graduation ceremony Friday at 5 p.m. For Thomas Crimmins and many of the other 30 students receiving diplomas, leaving school will be bittersweet – a sensation they never would have imagined a few years ago.

“Even though I won’t be here, I still want the message of what HCA’s done to live on,” Crimmins said. “It’s changed me, and it’s changed a lot of people.”


Like many HCA kids, Crimmins, who goes by his last name, had a difficult relationship with school growing up. He was too shy to make many friends at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School, and he struggled to understand the work his teachers assigned him.


For his mother Vickie, parent-teacher conferences were nerve-wrecking. She saw Crimmins did better in school when his instructors tried engaging him with outside-of-the-box methods, but she worried that the Brunswick school system would provide less of this individualized attention at the junior high school level.

Without much hope, she enrolled him in HCA’s 6th grade program, which offers hands-on learning opportunities and a flexible curriculum.

“We weren’t sure when we started there if it was going to work,” Vickie Crimmins said. “Thankfully it did.”

Today, Crimmins is an outgoing, popular member of the school’s student body, according to friends and teachers.

“Crimmins is one of those really subtle leaders,” said Caleb Christensen Fletcher, one of two teachers who will speak at Friday’s graduation.  “People tend to gravitate towards that.”

“Crimmins is a very fierce friend,” said student Sam Kemos, who will also speak Friday. “Once you earn that trust and loyalty with him, he’s got your back.”


Once unable to understand his elementary school lessons, Crimmins now regularly aids Christensen Fletcher as a teaching assistant. Once a wallflower, he’s now the one to rally his diverse collection of friends to rent a limo for prom.

“He’s just shaped into such a wonderful young man,” Vicki Crimmins said. “We’re very proud of him.”


Part of how Harpswell Coastal Academy brings students like Crimmins out of their shells is by meeting them where they are, both socially and academically, according to Christensen Fletcher, who runs the school’s E-sports team and a Dungeons & Dragons program.

“Where at a lot of public schools my interests would probably be shunned or laughed at a bit,” said Crimmins, a member of both groups. “Here it’s quite the opposite.”

Besides inviting students to take part in off-beat extracurriculars, instructors often create unique courses in subjects they’re passionate about, like botany and computer coding.


Movies captured Crimmins’ imagination after he first took a filmmaking course at HCA in seventh grade. He created a thriller with a group of classmates, wrote screenplays at home and directed his cousins in a post-apocalyptic flick.

For his senior capstone project, he took on a new challenge: filming and editing a “Get Back”-style documentary about his friends Kemos and Jacob DeHahn, who had themselves discovered their love for art at Harpswell Coastal Academy.

Kemos, whose own journey from unhappy fifth grader to gigging guitarist mirrored Crimmins’ path, said his friend did a good job capturing the duo’s attempts to write and perform original music.

“I have all the respect for Crimmins, and I trust him,” Kemos said. “I knew he was going to get good film, and he was going to do what he needs for his project. It made the environment much less like, ‘I need to behave a certain way for this guy.’”

Neither the music project nor the documentary went off without a hitch. Time, budget and technology constraints forced the band to abandon their rock album in favor of an acoustic performance, while Christensen Fletcher helped Crimmins slowly shave his 40-minute director’s cut into a tight 12 minutes.

The ability to draw that kind of effort and dedication out of students is a testament to the school’s value, Christensen Fletcher said.


“HCA does a really good job of meeting students where they’re at, but then encouraging them,” he said. “You do have to put the work in, but we’re here to support whatever you’re doing with that.”


Crimmins doesn’t expect to pursue a career in film, but he hopes to keep making movies while studying computer science at the University of Maine at Farmington next year. He’s proud of his growth from struggling, shy student to confident Eagle Scout, and he’s glad the school that helped transform him will remain open so that another set of kids can discover how to set up a camera or play the middle lane in League of Legends.

Though he doesn’t have to, Crimmins plans on coming to Harpswell Coastal Academy next week to spend a final few days with his friends and to help pack up the Brunswick campus for the school’s move to Harpswell.

“Sure, I don’t technically have to be here,” he said. “I just want to.”

Editor’s note: Thomas Crimmins is the son of former Times Record columnist Jonathan Crimmins. 

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