Harpswell Coastal Academy’s Class of 2023 – its last class – at their graduation ceremony. Contributed / Haley Nowak

Harpswell Coastal Academy held its final graduation ceremony this month and members of the Class of 2023 say it was hard to say goodbye forever to a school where they fit in and that made them love learning.

The 10-year-old public charter school’s charter was not renewed by the state last year over concerns about its enrollment numbers and academic performance, among other reasons cited, forcing its closure at the end of this school year.

The 2023 graduating class of Harpswell Coastal Academy. Contributed / Haley Nowak

It was an honor to be in the last class, said recent graduate Juliana Martin.

“I’ve been at HCA since sixth grade, so knowing I have the privilege to be in the last class is kind of cool, but I have a lot of underclassmen friends who I wish had the chance to graduate here,” Martin said.

Martin didn’t like school before transferring to HCA. She said she was a disruptive student and struggled to pay attention in class.

But the staff at HCA engaged her in learning in a way she never had before, she said. Teachers “personally connect with you and make sure you’re caught up and doing OK in the class, instead of just being told that you need to catch up or you’re going to fail,” she said. 


The grade 5-12 school, with its personalized, hands-on approach to learning that incorporates marine and natural resources, was the right fit for Martin. She had the opportunity to take lab classes and conduct studies on water quality and pollution.

As a kid, I always really liked to be outside and digging in the dirt. I’d go to the beach and collect hermit crabs,” she said, but she hadn’t been aware that could be part of her education.

Martin will attend Southern Maine Community College in the fall to study for marine biology.

“I never really thought I would go to college,” she said.

Her classmate, Haley Nowak, attended HCA for two years before graduating this month.

“I switched over because I had a really toxic start to high school at another school,” Nowak said. “It’s definitely bittersweet and we’re all going to miss it. We had teachers who cared about us the way no other teachers ever had.”


Before she transferred to HCA, she was shy and didn’t tend to socialize or spend much time with peers, she said, but there, “everyone was so accepting.” She made friends on her first day at the school, she said.

“It really provided a sense of healing for me. Because of HCA I grew out of that shell, and it helped me find myself.”

Nowak, who will study to be a first responder at SMCC in the fall, said that for many of the HCA underclassmen, the transition to a new school environment in the fall will likely be difficult.

“You’ve been in a community for so long that you’re no longer going to have,” she said. “I feel that smaller communities are important for students. When you can have one-on-one with teachers, it opens up more opportunities.”

Martin said she’s concerned about the underclassmen, too.

“The closure really affected a community,” she said. “All my friends are splitting up and I know people who are dropping out because they feel like there’s nowhere else to go.”

She hopes there will be “more charter schools in the future for kids like me who need that personal touch.”

Despite the looming closure of the school, senior year was a good one, Martin said. Once the closing became official, “everyone was just like, ‘let’s make this the best year we can,'” and “a lot of people got closer knowing we were part of helping HCA wrap up.”

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