FAIRFIELD — Good things come from humble beginnings.

That was the message to graduates at today’s commencement exercises at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences.

“Never did I foresee becoming a scientist or writer. It takes more than a dream, it takes effort and a willingness to explore and get out in nature,” said Bernd Heinrich, keynote speaker.

That message was echoed by others at the graduation, which was not only an important day for the school’s 10 graduates, but a historic one for the state.

The graduating class of 2013 is the first class to graduate from a charter school in Maine. The school, located on the Good Will-Hinckley campus, became Maine’s first charter school in October. It opened in September 2011.

As the students processed into the intimate chapel where the ceremony took place, dark clouds crowded the sky and rain fell on the other side of the stained glass windows. But by the time they received their diplomas, the sun was shining.


Executive Director Glenn Cummings said the weather was fitting for the graduating class, all of whom came to MeANS from around the state. The school, which was founded on the legacy of the former Good Will-Hinckley Home for Boys & Girls, a school and home for troubled youth that closed because of financial difficulties in 2009 after 121 years, offers an alternative agriculture-focused curriculum for students that may not succeed in a traditional classroom setting.

“You have overcome some of life’s greatest challenges. Life is not easy, but your being here in the face of adversity says a lot about each and every one of you and your abilities to be resilient,” Maine Senate President Justin Alfond said to the graduates.

Alfond, whose recent criticism of the leadership at a Portland charter school ignited outrage from Gov. Paul LePage, also applauded the school’s faculty and staff for a successful school year. His family, which runs the Harold Alfond Foundation, is known for their support of education in Maine and donated $1 million to the school on the first day of classes last October.

The school, which runs on a trimester schedule, enrolled 44 students from 27 school districts around the state this year. The plan is to enroll between 67 to 70 students in 2013–2014 and there is a waiting list of 20, said spokeswoman Rebecca Pollard.

It was one of only two schools along with the Cornville Regional Charter School in Cornville, to receive charters last June. Since then three more schools have been approved to open this fall: Baxter Academy for Technology & Science in Portland, Fiddlehead School of Art and Science in Gray and Harpswell Coastal Academy in Harpswell.

The Republican-led state Legislature approved the creation of a charter school program in June 2011, making it the 41st state to do so. The law allows only 10 charter schools to be approved in the first decade.


Department of Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, who was also present at today’s ceremony, said that in the first year of existence for charter schools there has been controversy over the model for a number of reasons, including the concern that they draw state funding away from local school districts.

But today was not about that, instead it was about the success that students like Emily Baker have found at MeANS.

Baker, who was one of two student speakers at the graduation, addressed her classmates with the message that in order to succeed it is important to love yourself.

The 18-year-old, who has received a full scholarship to study sustainable agriculture at Kennebec Valley Community College in the fall, said that before coming to MeANS she did not feel challenged and was having a hard time connecting with teachers and students at her old school, Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale.

“I know I don’t speak for everyone but many of the students here felt that regular public school couldn’t meet their needs. This school brought my smile back,” said Baker, who is from Hallowell.

During her senior year at MeANS, Baker interned at the Glenn Stratton Learning Center, which is also located on the 1,800 acre Good Will-Hinckley campus and provides education services to kindergarten through grade twelve students with emotional and behavioral challenges.


“For the first time I felt like I had control over my education. I was working towards a goal and when I started to succeed it took away my anxiety. I felt like I could live up to the expectations my family had set for me,” said Baker.

Her father, Richard Baker, said the MeANS philosophy, student-teacher ratio and caring faculty were an important part of his daughter’s success, as he wiped away tears outside the chapel tonight.

“It has been a wonderful experience,” he said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
[email protected]

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