HINCKLEY, Maine — The state’s first two charter schools, located less than 15 miles from each other, opened for the first time Monday morning.
The Cornville Regional Charter School in Cornville and the Maine Academy of Natural Science at Good Will-Hinckley started their first day of school.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine; Maine House Speaker Robert Nutting; State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and other politicians were on hand to welcome the first class at the MeANS charter school. The school was previously private.
Cornville’s charter school opened in the former elementary school building.
The contracts for the schools were signed by the Maine Charter School Commission on July 31.
In all, 106 students became the first to attend charter schools in the state. Cornville’s school has 60 students in grades K-6, while MeANS has 46 high school students.
“It went beautifully. It went really well,” said Justin Belanger, executive director of the Cornville school.
Belanger said the sixth-graders raised a flag of the former Cornville Elementary School, did a pledge, took that flag down and put up a flag of the new school. The opening ceremony was purposely kept quiet so students would have a better experience, he said.
MeANS had a grander opening with speeches from the government officials and politicians.
“Over 120 years, the men and women of Good Will-Hinckley have devoted themselves to helping youth overcome challenges so they could get ahead in life,” said Michaud. “This academy is the latest chapter of this proud tradition and a natural step of an organization that has contributed so much to the great state of Maine.”
Many MeANS students live on campus and come from 27 different school districts — from Columbia Falls in Washington County to Ogunquit in York County.
Charter schools offer many different courses compared to those taught at most public schools. Many classes at MeANS will be taught outdoors, and Nutting said the school will also fill a gap by providing sorely needed training for technical jobs.
“The Good Will-Hinckley school will go a long ways toward bridging that gap by providing a unique setting on this beautiful landscape to prepare students for careers in farming, forestry, environmental science and other related fields,” said Nutting.
Junior boarding student Nicholas Fothergill of Wiscasset said that’s the reason he is at MeANS.
“I’m a very hands-on learner. I like working outside and doing stuff with my hands,” he said. “The program gives me the structure and guidance I need. I plan to take full advantage of this opportunity.”
Fellow boarding student Olivia Broadrick, a senior from York, jumped at the opportunity to attend MeANS.
“I’ve always been passionate about the outdoors and animals. Everything I’ve ever considered going for a career for was centered around natural sciences,” she said. “I walked away from the first tour I took with both my parents and asked them, ‘When can I start?’”
MeANS not only offers a natural science curriculum, which some students crave, but it also gives an opportunity for students who may been lost in traditional school systems.
“Not all students can reach their full potential in a traditional classroom setting. This was the motivation for establishing charter schools in Maine,” said Nutting.
Good Will-Hinckley President and Executive Director Glenn Cummings said one-in-five students drop out of high school.
“We wanted to get them before they dropped out, and in some case, after they dropped out,” said Cummings. “[We want them] to be here to try hands-on, real-world working experiences that [use] their hands, bodies and minds. That’s our goal here today.”
In Cornville on Monday afternoon, Belanger said his charter school was running smoothly.
“We’re actually kind of looking around at each other saying, ‘It’s going too smooth. What are we missing here?’” Belanger said with a laugh. “Everything’s great.”
The Cornville Regional Charter School aims to include seventh grade next year and add as many as 30 more students, said Belanger. The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences plans to have between 62 and 82 students next year.
Poliquin urged the students at MeANS to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them.
“Once you earn that diploma, and it’s going to be hard, you will have that education forever,” he said. “You will have more options in your life, so you will be able to get the job that you want, not the job that somebody else doesn’t want.”
MeANS will have classes five days per week until the February break, when it will cut back to four days per week. Graduation will be the first week of August.
The Cornville school has a 1½-hour longer school day than most schools to help make up the month lost by starting on Oct. 1. It also has cut out some holidays that students traditionally have off, such as Columbus Day, Patriot’s Day and Presidents’ Day. Schools are required to have 175 teaching days.
“The students will be learning about Columbus in the classroom instead of at home playing video games,” said Belanger.