Students and faculty at Chewonki Elementary and Middle School head out to the frog pond during the school day in 2016. After eight years, the school will close at the end of the school year in June. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A new independent school will open this fall in Bath, filling a void in place-based education in the Midcoast region left by the closure of Chewonki Elementary and Middle School in Wiscasset.

The Brightfield School grew out of the decision to close the Chewonki school and seeks to preserve community-focused and outdoor-oriented learning in the region, the school announced this week. It will open in September and enroll up to 56 students in four mixed-grade classrooms.

The Chewonki Foundation announced last fall that it would close the Chewonki Elementary and Middle School in June after eight years because it was unable to find a short- or long-term model to financially sustain the program. The school had created a place-based education model for students in first through eighth grades.

Parents of Chewonki students said at the time that they had no inkling of the financial situation and were confused and upset by the closure. But they were also eager to find similar educational opportunities for their children and a group of families and advisers went on to raise more than $165,000 to start Brightfield.

“We are incredibly excited to bring Brightfield to life this September,” Cyrus Ahalt, chair of the Brightfield board of trustees, said in a statement. “We have built a thriving community of students, parents, faculty, and board members committed to ensuring that Brightfield is here to stay. We can’t wait to welcome others into the fold.”

After the Chewonki closure was announced, Eli Arlen of Woolwich started applying to other schools for her son, 11-year-old Micah Loosigian. They were both thrilled that plans for Brightfield came together “so quickly and with such great intention,” she said. Micah, who is going into fifth grade, started at Chewonki in second grade and thrived in a school with small classes, lots of outdoor time, and an emphasis on connecting with the community.


“The curriculum becomes alive and there’s this deep connection to what you’re learning and how it pertains to your local area,” Arlen said.

Micah, who was determined to go to Brightfield, is looking forward to continuing to learn with some of his Chewonki classmates, his mother said.

“He’s really excited to be able to help create this new school,” Arlen said. “He thinks it’s a cool thing to be in this first generation.”

Until a permanent home is found, Brightfield will operate at 340 Oak Grove Ave. in Bath, a property that has 7 acres of woodland abutting Sewall Woods and is connected to the Whiskeag Trail. It will also use space in the Bath United Methodist Church, though the school is not faith-based or religiously affiliated.

Pastor Kelly Harvell said the church is excited to have Brightfield as part of the community.

“We feel this is a great fit and look forward to working with everyone to make sure the children will have a wonderful learning experience,” she said.


School officials say the faculty includes several established educators, including some who have worked at Chewonki. Teachers lined up for the first year include Lorna Fake (first and second grades), Megan Phillips (third and fourth grades), Katie Matthews (fifth and sixth grades), and Kat Cassidy (seventh and eighth grades).

“Some of our goals at Brightfield will be to make learning collaborative and active in our school community and to encourage curiosity about our new outdoor environment,” Fake said in a statement.

Brightfield’s tuition will range from $4,620 to $14,000 for grades 1 to 6 and $5,280 to $16,000 for grades 7 and 8, depending on families’ financial situations.

School officials say they have leaned on the experience and advice of Morris Farm, Midcoast Conservancy and their Hidden Valley Nature Center team, and The Community School of Mount Desert Island for advice. The Midcoast Conservancy is serving as fiscal sponsor while the school’s application to become a nonprofit is being processed.

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