North Haven Community School, Maine’s smallest K-12 public school with an average of 60 students, is seeking mainland students to participate in the pilot year of its new magnet program.
Magnet schools are permitted by Maine law and allow publicly funded schools to accept students from outside their service area. Some have themed curriculum, like the math and science school in Limestone, but North Haven hopes to focus on invigorating its smaller-than-average high school population while also offering mainland students access to the school’s place-based, individualized academics and arts and athletic programs.
Applications are now being accepted to enroll as a magnet student for the 2017-2018 school year.
The existing school community would benefit with more students, said principal Amy Marx.
“I think that given that our size is smaller than it’s been in the last five to ten years, there is a social dynamic that is missing for many of our kids,” she said. Having more peers to socialize and interact with “will bring more vibrancy to classrooms, and discussions and interactions in classrooms and learning situations,” she said.
Marx and school board members Collette Haskell and Hannah Pingree collaborated with staff to create a brochure and application, which is being distributed to Midcoast schools, particularly middle schools without a high school in their district.
“We’re reaching out to those schools between Belfast and the Damariscotta area that don’t have high school but have students who maybe are not right for a 500-student type high school. That’s not a great fit for everybody,” Haskell said.
The school is touting its facility, built in 2007, which includes a timber-frame projects building, and a greenhouse and gardens, and a new gymnasium. The school also offers art, theater, and music programs.
The “welcoming and close-knit island community,” with a year-round population of about 350, is also highlighted in the brochure.
Islesboro’s successful magnet program served as a model for North Haven Community School, which has the added challenge of a longer, less-frequent ferry ride. To that end, magnet students would be housed on-island in a house in town Monday through Thursday nights.
“We set our tuition at $10,000, which includes room and board,” said Pingree, the school board chairwoman. “We will primarily provide them a place to sleep, and supervision at the dorm and the meals.” For districts without a high school, the district covers the tuition cost, Pingree said, while families from districts with a high school would be responsible for the tuition. Some financial aid is available, thanks to an anonymous donation.
Mainland students would take the 9:30 a.m. ferry from Rockland on Monday mornings and leave the island on the 12:30 p.m. ferry on Friday.
“We have just started putting stuff out there,” Pingree said of the publicity effort. “We’ve gotten great responses from people, saying this is so cool, kids would be so lucky to be able to go to your school.”
A student in this year’s graduating class who chose to return to North Haven after a decade off-island was an example of the kind of student they hope to recruit, according to Pingree.
“She came to our school just for her senior year from a large Pennsylvania high school where she wasn’t fitting in, wasn’t doing that well academically, and she didn’t think she could go to college,” Pingree said. “And after a year at our school, she wrote her own play, went on a fall field-study expedition and had a great time.”
The girl was accepted at four of the five colleges she applied to, and grew in confidence, Pingree said.
“We really can make such a difference in the lives of kids who are just not finding their way at their current school,” she added.
Haskell hopes increased numbers in the high school student body would inspire students to push themselves academically.
“I think a little peer pressure when they’re in their classrooms is good, (pushing them to) rise to the occasion and all of that,” she said.
Students, staff, and the community are supportive of the magnet program, said Marx.
“As far as we know, everybody is in support and understands how this could bring more to the students on the island and that we have a program that has a lot to offer other students who might not be happy in a large, comprehensive high school,” she said.
“I think kids can find their passion academically in a way that’s not possible in a bigger school,” said Pingree.
The North Haven Community School Magnet Program brochure and application can be found on its website, nhcshawks.org, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Courtney Naliboff teaches at the school.