LIMESTONE, Maine — On Thursday, a short distance away from the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, instructor Jennifer Brophy oversaw a handful of students who were in an outdoor learning environment.
The students, part of her engineering explorations class, were overseeing research they helped lead that was aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of a home inhabited by an MSSM instructor. The work was made possible through an $80,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research awarded to the school in 2011.
On Thursday, students were standing outside the home watching as contractors conducted additional work necessary to make operational the solar panels and a heat pump that have been installed onto the dwelling.
“I have really learned a lot in the time that we’ve been out here using the thermal imaging camera and learning how solar panels work,” Emily Stamey, a senior from Westbrook, said on Thursday. “It is very hands on, which is why you learn so much.”
Such opportunities for unique, hands-on learning with highly qualified instructors for students at MSSM have once again drawn the attention of U.S. News and World Report. On Tuesday,
the publication released its annual public high school rankings report. It listed the school as the 13th best public high school in the nation, up from its 38th place ranking in 2012. No other school in Maine made it into the top 100.
The publication also named the magnet school the best in New England and the third best magnet school in the nation.
The ranking, which includes just over 21,000 schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia, measures how well schools serve their students. Schools have to provide measurable academic outcomes to demonstrate the successful education of students across a spectrum of performance indicators.
The Limestone school caters to students in grades 10 through 12 from approximately 81 Maine communities. A handful of the 103 students are from out of state. The maximum enrollment is 142 students and the majority of students live in residence halls on campus.
“The MSSM community is very excited to be consistently ranked so well,” said Luke Shorty, MSSM executive director. “MSSM is being recognized on various levels by different organizations and we’re very appreciative of that. We feel proud to be able to offer a student-centered, innovative curriculum to motivated students right here in beautiful Aroostook County.”
Shorty indicated that high-caliber staff and faculty dedicated to student success are key factors in the school’s accomplishments.
Hayley Frank of Saco, a senior, said that hands-on projects such as the one they were working on Thursday also give students good insight into the parts of careers that high schoolers don’t always think about.
“Before we started, we talked about the scheduling that is involved in engineering, because with a project like this, you need to get permits and you need to hire contractors, so it kind of put that into perspective,” she said.
Bethany Hartley of Whitefield, a senior at MSSM, said that other aspects that make it a top-ranked school include its popular J-Term, or January term. During the 10-day slot of time after the fall semester and winter break, the students dedicate themselves to a particular course or project, whether they are at the school or at an internship of their choosing, or through travel or research in an educational setting or in a foreign country.
“That always offers you the chance to see and learn something new in a new way every year,” Hartley said.
Kineo Wallace of Milo, a senior in the class, said that he was not surprised to hear news of the ranking. He said that the instructors at the school challenge the students with the curriculum, and all of the students want to be challenged.
As part of their work with Brophy and other MSSM instructors, all four of the students used a thermal imaging camera to take photos of the house to determine which areas needed better insulation. They also learned the mechanics of how the solar panels and the heat pump function and recently did a presentation for the residents of the home.
Brophy, a first-year instructor at the school, is also an MSSM graduate. She said that when she graduated in 1997, there were not as many opportunities for hands-on projects as there are now.
“While this is only my first year, I also know from other instructors that the kids here are thirsty for knowledge,” she said. “I know that I will have to step up my game each year in every class that I teach. The students are always pushing you for more.”
U.S. News and World Report’s full list of schools, rankings and methodology can be found on its website: http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/national-rankings.