FAIRFIELD — In a typical day, David Hill photographs sun spots and star trails and milks cows at a nearby farm.

The senior boarding student at Maine Academy of Natural Sciences also makes meals at his cottage and interviews a graduate of Good Will-Hinckley for a historical project.

A year ago, Hill attended Nokomis Regional High School in Newport.

He said his attendance wasn’t that great.

“I probably missed about a third of the days,” the 17-year-old said. “I haven’t missed school here; we have new things every day.”

New things at Maine Academy of Natural Sciences include building raised beds to grow greens, learning to identify trees, cooking and marketing pizzas, building chicken coops, making Christmas wreaths and helping area elementary school students with their garden.

“Last year, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Hill, who is from Corinna. “I have a job now, I have an idea of what I want to do with my life.”

Hands-on learning has meaning for Hill.

It’s also easier for Hill to learn about agriculture, sustainability and forestry when woods and farmland surround him 24 hours a day.

Education Program Designer Emanuel Pariser has said when young people have hope and believe in their future, they’ll jump through educational hoops to get where they want to go.

“When you start to believe in yourself, you can let go of previous school expectations,” Pariser said. “When kids have success they have more courage. We seek to help find ways that kids can excel.”

Hill said he’s thinking about exploring World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, an organization that matches interested volunteers with organic farmers. In exchange for volunteers’ help, participating host farms around the world provide food, living space and chances to learn about organic lifestyles.

He said someday he would like to run an organic market.

Hill is one of the 21 inaugural students — 11 boarding and 10 day — who started school in September at Maine Academy of Natural Sciences.

Nineteen were enrolled in December and Pariser said another student is expected to join the pioneering group in January.

Educators, strive to provide each child with individual programs, whether that’s a firefighting internship or working at Barrels Community Market in Waterville, Pariser said.

He said the first few months at the fledgling academy have sometimes felt “like flying a plane while building it at the same time.”

“We’re trying to do what hasn’t been done,” he said. “It’s very exciting and complicated and exhausting. Part of the challenge is getting to know them and build relationships with them. The staff is on screech.”

The mission, said Pariser, is to take students who might not have felt successful in traditional education settings and offer them something unique and purposeful.

That translates for Hill into exploring his interest in photography with John Stetson, who teaches classes at Central Maine Community College.

And working on a farm.

Having a positive attitude, is important, Hill said.

So is having energy.

Continuing the legacy

Executive Director Glenn Cummings is one of the staff members on screech.

He previously served in President Barack Obama’s administration as deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, was an economics instructor at the University of Southern Maine and was speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.

These days, he seeks to ensure the academy continues the legacy of the Rev. George Walter Hinckley, who founded the school in 1898 and believed the best training for children was to be outside in nature.

According to Cummings, “It was his deeply held belief that nature has a lot to teach us. It’s the best training for (children’s) academic and character development.

The discipline, and belief system and principles — it’s very much going back to its original roots.”

The executive director travels throughout the state — Presque Isle was a recent destination — to tout the academy to education administrators.

Cummings said the goal for student enrollment is about 40 for 2012-13 and about 80 for 2013-14.

Solar panels were recently installed on Prescott Memorial building and Cummings said additional green money-saving green projects are on the horizon.

Since Good Will-Hinckley’s board of directors voted to apply for charter school status, preparing the application is on the upcoming agenda.

Cummings and Kennebec Valley Community College administrators are working to settle the final details of the sale of about 680 acres of the 2,450-acre Good Will-Hinckley campus to the college. The sale, which was expected to be completed several months ago, will likely include cottages, the Alfond Recreation Center, farm, Averill School, president’s residence and chapel.

The college may well have students on the Good Will-Hinckley campus next fall, Cummings said.

Money from the sale will bolster Good Will-Hinckley’s financial standing and provide academy students with immediate access to classes at the community college.

Cummings said administrators at Maine Academy of Natural Sciences are also looking at school calendar models that would best suit the agriculture-based academy. One such model, he said, has a four-day school week and an extended school year.

In the four months the school has operated, Cummings said he’s seen the students grow academically and mature with regard to respecting and cooperating with each other.

“These past four months it’s been so important to work as a team,” Principal Troy Frost said. “It hasn’t been bump-less and our colleagues are there to pick each other up; the kids see that and learn from that.”

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]

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