Good Will-Hinckley has a long and distinguished tradition of providing residence to special students. The new charter school, under the parent organization of Good Will-Hinckley, takes our high-risk students and provides a secure and sustainable educational environment for them to grow and learn. How do I know this? My granddaughter is a student at the school and is excelling in ways we could not have imagined just a few short years ago. There is a unique value in charter schools — especially MeANS — that should not be lost in the broader debate on whether charter schools are good for Maine. They cater to a slice of the population that needs direct attention, and they provide children who might otherwise fall through the cracks a “real” opportunity to succeed.

The academy created a public-private partnership with the Harold Alfond Foundation that provided a $1 million gift upon the academy receiving charter school status. Proceeds will be used to match state money for the residential program. Today, the funding for that residential program is needed more than ever. We need to ensure future generations will have the chance to prepare for careers in agriculture and sustainability — just as my granddaughter is doing today.

Having a residential component is uncommon for charter schools, but the academy is proving that by having the ability to provide residential services for students throughout Maine they further expand their capacity and reach.

Capacity and reach ensures that MeANS is not cannibalizing local school districts by only drawing from those in its immediate region — but truly engaging students who are the highest risk, and who might invariably fail under a more traditional system. Today, more than 40 students attend the school, more than half of whom live on campus.

These students represent 27 school districts from York County to Washington County. Most students describe themselves as having been at risk of dropping out of school (or had already dropped out).

The academy’s residential program provides a seamless transition between home and school, a component critical to the success of these students that is unavailable in our traditional public schools. Everyone deserves a chance to succeed. The Fairfield school has proven it has a formula that works, a formula we should be investing in, not divesting of.

Failing to fund MeANS’ residential program in its infant stage is penny wise and pound foolish. The at-risk youth we save today through this program will be adults the state will not be supporting years down the road.

I may not have agreed in the beginning with chartering these schools — but in this case, they have proved to be valuable components in a complex educational system. Investing in the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences today ensures the promise of a fulfilling life for these students tomorrow and a lifetime of returns for Maine.

If there is a better way to provide the education these students need, then we should be examining other ways to provide these services before cutting the existing program. Give it a chance to prove itself while continuing to examine more and better ways to educate all our students.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Beverly Bustin-Hatheway is a former state senator. She lives in Hallowell.

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