HINCKLEY, Maine — The changing weather outside Moody Chapel at Good Will-Hinckley reflected the changing fortunes of 10 students at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences.
The students, many of whom had dropped out, almost dropped out or just did not fit in at their previous high schools, became high school graduates during a ceremony on Friday evening.
The rain poured just before the start of the event, but light shone through the stained-glass windows before it was over. The students were the first charter school graduates in the state. The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences was the first licensed charter school in Maine.
Students credited the school’s educators and staff for helping them turn their lives around.
“Before MeANS, I saw high school as a place that caused more harm than good,” said graduating senior Emily Baker of Augusta. “In my old school, like many high schools all over the state, students have a wide variety of learning styles. It’s no surprise that public high schools cannot tend to each individual’s learning style. While students perform perfectly in the public school system and are truly getting something out of their public education, many others who are not getting what they need feel trapped.”
Baker said she had lost confidence in her abilities as she struggled through high school. That changed when she joined MeANS in October, she said.
“Becoming part of the MeANS community was a turning point in my life,” Baker said. “First of all, being at MeANS brought my smile back. I’ve learned how to flourish and thrive because of this special community we have formed here.
“The academic program at MeANS lets you design your own education plan,” she said. “For the first time, I saw an opportunity to learn what the state expects high school graduates to know in a way that was specific to my learning style as well as future goals and interests. This new control over my education sparked my desire to succeed. Once I did start succeeding, I proved to myself that I’m capable of learning.”
Maine Department of Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen spoke at the ceremony.
Afterward, he said the stories of graduating seniors show why charter schools are important.
“There’s a lot of fighting and arguing in Augusta by a lot of people who aren’t here,” Bowen said after the ceremony. “You heard about the success the kids had. You heard a student talk about not fitting in and [say she] was struggling [at her previous school]. We get to prove that this works. I think that’s what’s exciting about it.”
Author Bernd Heinrich, who graduated from Good Will-Hinckley 60 years ago, encouraged students to explore nature and take risks.
“There’s no shortcut to happiness. It doesn’t come in a pill. It does not come easy. There are no real rules, but there are ways and they are hard,” he said during the ceremony. “It takes a dream and it takes effort.”
In his address, Bowen congratulated the students and said they are needed in the world.
“Like the educators here, you’ve been pioneers. You have the courage to try a new approach to learning. You’ve worked hard and you’ve succeeded,” Bowen said. “The courage, that commitment, that hard work will serve you well. The jobs of the future are going to require boldness and creativity. We need people to think differently and approach challenges in new ways.
“I encourage you to be bold and courageous with whatever else life brings you, and I wish you the very best,” he said.
Graduating from the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences were Emily Baker of Augusta, Olivia Mae Gudjonsson Broadwick of York, Cody Buzzell of Madison, Jake Gerry of South Portland, Robert Grant of Fairfield, Blair Hudson of Columbia Falls, Alana Ketcham of Gardiner, Bryan Mason of Plymouth, Hunter Patten of Hartland and Keifer Schulz of Lewiston.
Good Will-Hinckley board member Kathryn Hunt was an honorary graduate.