On a raw February day, freshman biology students at the Maine Ocean School sprawled on the floor of a classroom at the Hutchinson Center to make board games for a science project.
As a group of girls sketched pictures of a giant squid and a killer whale on large sheets of cardboard, it wasn’t immediately apparent that they were pioneers of a sort.
The teens belong to the inaugural class of 12 students attending the state’s second magnet school, which opened last September. The Maine Ocean School aims to provide a theme-based education focused on the state’s maritime connection and heritage, and students can focus on marine science, technology, transportation and engineering.
Those are lofty goals for a school that is still hammering out critical details such as its lack of a dedicated building, dormitory and funding formula that would allow the school to fulfill its mission.
Nevertheless, students such as Kamren Start, a chatty 14-year-old from Islesboro who wants to be a marine biologist and get her captain’s license someday, seemed glad to be there.
“I love it. It’s great — I get to hang out with kids who make me laugh all the time. It feels like a small, tight-knit community, and it’s everything I ever wanted to learn,” she said, adding that her favorite class so far has been navigation. “Probably everyone’s favorite thing is plotting a course.”
Return to maritime traditions
The simple fact that the Maine Ocean School exists at all is somewhat remarkable, because former Gov. Paul LePage planned to veto legislation to establish the maritime-focused magnet school in 2015.