NEWPORT, Maine — Nokomis Regional High School principal Arnold Shorey was a bit taken aback earlier this week when state officials announced a New England consortium that is intended to transform high schools.
Gov. John Baldacci and Education Commissioner Susan Gendron listed a number of goals for the $1 million grant, including ensuring that “students will conduct research in their communities, acquire real-world skills through challenging internships, take online and on-campus college courses, use powerful new technologies to access the world, and engage in other innovative learning opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.”
“We’re already doing all that,” Shorey said Wednesday. “I don’t want to say, ‘Look at me. Look at me.’ But if the state officials really looked at what is going on in many Maine high schools, including rural high schools like Nokomis, they would see that these programs are already in place. They are successful. And, we are looking well beyond to even more innovative projects.”
Shorey said Nokomis has been offering university credits to students for seven years. He said the program offers a two-for-one for more than 25 students, who can take a college credit course and receive high school credit at the same time. “They can take up to three units a year,” he said. “This really gives them a head start when they enter college.”
Nokomis also offers several online learning options. “This is a great way to recover lost credits,” Shorey said. The programs focus on math and English. “We have a virtual high school and another program, Agile Mind, which is math online. We are also a pilot school for Lifetime Libraries.”
Internships and job shadowing through the school’s Career Pathways program have been happening for years, Shorey said. “The sooner a student becomes focused on their career pathway, research shows they take academics more seriously and strive to work hard to accomplish their goals.”
Another offshoot of Career Pathways is the senior exhibition project. Each senior must prepare a project that illustrates all aspects of their education. “Last night, for example, we had an art show and poetry reading by two of the seniors. It was extraordinary,” Shorey said. “This program is in its fourth year.”
Off-campus learning always has been a priority at Nokomis, Shorey said. “We are fortunate,” he said, to have a campus that includes Nokomis Pond, forested and wooded areas and an 84-acre nature preserve. Students have conducted studies using the pond and woodlot, and have partnerships for other studies with College of the Atlantic, the Maine Warden Service, and the Maine Department of Conservation.
Students from Nokomis science classes have studied endangered terns at Plymouth Pond as well as measuring mercury levels in ice on Sebasticook Lake in Newport. Seasonal archeological digs take place in the preserve, Mullen Woods, and the vegetation at the preserve provides a varied outdoor classroom.
Nokomis also boasts the country’s only high school taxidermy program, which caught the eye of the Smithsonian Institute and resulted in the donation of more than $1 million in exotic specimens to the science program.
The school also used a grant to fund a summer session for 85 incoming freshmen to work on readying them for high school math. “This program was very successful and we will be holding it again next year,” Shorey said.
The principal also was pleased to announce the receipt Wednesday of five of nine available minigrants from the Oak Grove School Foundation in Augusta. The $4,000 received will fund a writing center, a program on using graphic novels in social studies, a math literacy program, a school garden and a cooperative library plan.
“I am really glad the state is announcing these goals,” Shorey said. “Hopefully we can get some of those funds dedicated to keeping these valuable programs in place.”