Becky Dennison, dean of students at Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, addresses the 2021 graduating seniors who completed the Threshold program Friday in the Hinckley area of Fairfield. Taylor Abbott/Morning Sentinel)

FAIRFIELD — As they made their way to their seats, clad in a cap and gown, marching to the beat of “Pomp and Circumstance,” the 2021 graduates from Maine Academy of Natural Sciences’ Threshold program reflected on the challenges that they faced and the strides they made.

Twenty-one seniors were recognized Friday evening for completing their high school curriculum in a ceremony held on school grounds at 6 p.m. in the Hinckley area of Fairfield. The dean of the program opened the event and welcomed families before some graduates shared stories about some of the obstacles they had overcome and milestones they achieved.

“My first Threshold graduation was in the Prescott building across (from) here; we had eight graduates that year,” said Becky Dennison, dean of the program. “We have 21 seniors graduating from the Threshold program this evening. … We are here to honor our graduates, listen to their words and to celebrate them.”

Starting in 2011, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences has been operating as an independent school that serves students who prefer a more hands-on and personal approach to high school education with a focus on agriculture and sustainability. In 2012, the school became Maine’s first charter high school. The Threshold Program began four years ago.

Threshold, a high school diploma program at the academy, is designed for students looking to finish their diploma requirements while working independently for part of the week.

According to the website, the program is made for students who may be facing life challenges that make it difficult to attend school regularly, including those facing physical and emotional challenges. Anyone who is high school-aged is eligible to apply to both the academy and the Threshold program.

“We have discovered … there is a huge upsurge in anxiety and social anxiety among teens that for some has resulted in their withdrawing from school,” said Emanuel Pariser, program director and education consultant at Maine Academy of Natural Sciences. “Their stories each demonstrate the dramatic turn around that teens can accomplish with a little support from educational programming that fits their current challenges.”

Students in Maine Academy of Natural Sciences’ Threshold program receive their diplomas Friday during a graduation ceremony at the school in the Hinckley area of Fairfield. Taylor Abbott/Morning Sentinel

The graduating class comprises students from nearby towns including Industry, Athens, Etna, Augusta, Madison, Skowhegan, Waterville, Clinton, Palmyra, Bangor, Fayette, Sidney and St. Albans.

Jacek Twarog of Fayette said that when the pandemic began in March 2020, it made an already difficult high school experience an even bigger challenge. He credits the program for helping him succeed and finish his requirements.

“Without the help of my teachers, there’s no way I’d have made it,” Twarog said. “I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I know having this diploma opens up the world to me and that is a blessing I cannot repay.”

The evening concluded with remarks from Pariser, who shared that though “we are currently inhabiting one of the strangest worlds ever,” being able to “tune into our internal truth,” “checking in on what the important things are” and being able “to get quiet and listen carefully to our inner voice,” will help guide students “to the best decisions …”

He encouraged the crowd to continue to keep learning and relearning situation by situation and to do the right thing. The graduates, he said “have shown us that you have made the right choices to get here to this podium and this moment.”

Before ending with a poem, “Beannacht,” by John O’Donohue, Pariser offered one last piece of wisdom to graduates.

“Gratitude is the attitude; consider all the people who helped you along the way and make sure to let them know how much they helped,” Pariser said. “The more gratitude you express, the happier you will be. And know that you have achieved something irreversible; nobody can ever take away your high school diploma, and more importantly, no one can take away the effort you put into getting it.”


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