Originally published in The Weekly Packet, February 28, 2019
GSA takes learning outside the traditional classroom
Outdoor Leadership is a popular George Stevens Academy elective, taught by Dan Kane, that had students whitewater rafting last fall.
by Anne Berleant
Ask a parent the purpose of a high school education and the answer will likely center on academics and readying their child for college or the workforce. Ask a student, and the focus might skew towards friends, sports or the performing arts. While a diploma means fulfilling core requirements in math, English, science and social studies, George Stevens Academy offers electives and programs that sit squarely outside the academic box, a reflection of the school’s current philosophy.
“Part of our commitment is to make sure we have the right program for every student,” Head of School Tim Seeley recently said.
Home Repair and Maintenance, Culinary Arts, and Engine Technology and Advanced Engines are a few hands-on elective courses students can take. The high school also offers welding and blacksmithing, boat building, Digital Fabrication (at the Blue Hill Consolidated School’s Fab Lab), and an Outdoor Leadership class, available to juniors and seniors. The school also coordinates with Hancock County Technical Center—two students are attending the Ellsworth school this year—and has expanded its special education program.
GSA has also started an Ocean Studies program, evolved from the Eastern Maine Skippers Program, which GSA and seven other high schools in fishing communities take part in, broadening its scope to general marine science and research, and added an honors Marine Research class geared towards students with a strong interest and ability in science.
“Not every student thrives in the traditional classroom,” Head of School Tim Seeley said recently. “It’s not a reflection of academic ability or intelligence. We’re finding we have more students who need different kinds of programs.”
If a student is interested in a subject not taught at GSA, they may design an alternative course contract. Dean of Curriculum and Instruction David Stearns said five to 10 students opt in each year, with subjects ranging from circus equipment design and equine anatomy to personal fitness, blacksmithing and advanced French, Italian and Russian.
“The primary purpose of these alternative educational opportunities is for students to pursue personal interests that can’t be offered in a standard curriculum,” Stearns said. “In some cases these are explorations of careers and in some cases they are explorations of interests that aren’t really career-oriented.” Juniors and seniors also create a two-week independent study plan each year.
Rolling out this year is a Life Skills program, offering students classes throughout their four years in health and wellness, financial literacy, building social capital, community values and every day skills such as changing a tire. Seeley said the program sprung from asking teachers and students “what are we not doing that you think we should do?”
The administration is currently working on ways to harness the resources of community members, too. “For decades people have said that the peninsula is full of amazing natural and human resources, and wouldn’t it be great to connect our students with them?” Seeley said.
For more information, visit the GSA website page “Beyond Traditional Classroom,” at georgestevensacademy.org/Page/751.