THORNDIKE, Maine — Smoke filtered through pine trees outside the Mount View High School complex on Friday, as two Carhartt and Muck boot-wearing teenage boys crouched around a fire in the snow, getting ready to cook steaks for lunch despite the frigid weather.
Inside one of the classrooms, a group of girls and a boy pushed the desks aside and started to move to the infectious beat of hip-hop music.
And no, all these students weren’t about to get into trouble after blowing off class. They were enthusiastic participants in the school-wide Exploratory Week, offered for the second year in a row with the intention of giving students an opportunity to learn about new things and to rekindle a natural love of learning, which may have been extinguished by years of standardized tests and sitting in classrooms.
“It really excites kids about learning,” Principal Cheri Towle said of the program. “Learning can happen anytime, anyplace, and you can learn through your interests.”
Students this week could have chosen to take a class in archery, fly-tying, the lives of the Vikings and forensic science. They could have spent time in the snow building emergency shelters and fires with flint, in the outdoor survival course. They could have spent the week learning to ski, thanks to lift tickets donated by the Camden Snow Bowl and Saddleback Maine. Some opted to learn to dance and others took photography or studied up on medicinal plants.
Many of the slate of 50 or so offerings were taught by community volunteers, Towle said. That means a lot in a rural school district like RSU 3, where 70 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, a federal poverty marker.
“This week really gives opportunities for them to try things they might not have a chance to do otherwise,” she said. “Kids who’ve never skied or snowboarded had the opportunity to try that life skill.”
Kevin Davidson, 17, of Montville had the chance to learn a different type of life skill — woodworking — that he has not during the rest of his high school career. He lit up when he talked about his experience with teacher David Stevenson, better known in Waldo County as the conductor of the famed Mount View Chamber Singers, who taught students how to make dovetail joints and take care with their work.
“I’m making a box out of one board,” Davidson said. “It’s not about the box. It’s not about the board. It’s about the craftsmanship you put into it. It’s fun. It shows that you don’t have to buy everything. There’s value in craftsmanship.”