FAIRFIELD — While many of their peers graduated from high school weeks ago, seniors at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences received their diplomas Saturday, a hot August morning, at Moody Chapel.

The graduating class of 23 students is the largest the school has seen since it became the state’s first charter high school in 2012.

Graduation is traditionally held in August because the school, located on the Good Will-Hinckley campus, offers an agriculture-based curriculum that requires students to attend classes year-round.

“What I like about MeANS is that the learning environment is project-based and highly individualized,” said student speaker Zoe Keiper in opening remarks. “It was fun.”

Family and friends fanned themselves with ceremony programs as faculty members, wearing pins that read “I (heart) Agriculture,” proceeded into the crowded chapel, followed by the graduates.

Robert Moody, interim president of the Good Will-Hinckley Foundation, introduced guest speaker and honorary graduate Glenn Cummings. Cummings was president of the foundation during the school’s transition to a charter school and is also a former speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. He was appointed president of the University of Southern Maine in May.

Cummings, who worked with many of the graduates during his time at MeANS, told the audience that a key to student success is having teachers and staff members who truly care about them.

MeANS operates at the former Good Will-Hinckley Home for Boys and Girls, which closed in 2009 because of financial problems but re-opened in 2011 as an outdoors education high school. It became the state’s first charter high school in 2012 and graduated just 10 students the following year.

The school has focused on accepting students from around the state who are at risk for dropping out or have dropped out of traditional high schools.

“If somebody in the school knows them and likes them, a student does their best,” Cummings said. “This faculty has lived by that basic premise from the minute we began.”

He told the graduates to share their learning experiences with the world by comparing graduation and the students’ last four years to winning $5 million in the lottery.

“I believe you have received something very beautiful,” he said. “You won the lottery. There are students who will never have the experience you have had at Good Will-Hinckley, so you have to go out and be happy. In order to be happy, you have to go out and give away what you have. I know that sounds crazy, but the more you give away, the more happiness you will have.”

After receiving their diplomas, the students presented carnations to their families and friends. Some cried as they thanked their loved ones. Then they moved the tassels on their caps and walked out together to the class song — “Don’t You Forget About Me.”

“It’s been absolutely amazing,” said Hannah Austin, 18, of Bath. “Everybody here is like a wonderful family. It’s great.” Austin will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Sunday to begin working as an AmeriCorps volunteer mentoring students in public schools.

“Hopefully I get a great group of kids and hopefully I can help them,” she said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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