Last week the Messalonskee High School campus provided a cornucopia of sights, sounds, and smells. Behind the school, students worked to mix cement for the base of a new time capsule, the strains of beginning saxophones echoed out of the band room, and the savory scent of oven baked chicken filled the halls. The new YES (Year End Studies) program was in full swing and the variety of courses was quite remarkable; the one thing that each group had in common was how engaged the students were despite the warm June weather.
“ In my estimation, they are more engaged at this point in the year than I have seen in my career,” said Assistant Principal Sam Dunbar. Any student can take any course and the wide array of topics, chosen by staff in their areas of interest, allows greater student choice and increases opportunities for hands-on learning. Many of the courses feature guest speakers and off-campus trips which foster greater connection with the community. Short morning and afternoon sessions that focus on credit recovery will also hopefully reduce the need for summer school. The whole program has transformed the end of the year routine and caused a pleasant shift in school culture.
Some courses run for the full day, while others are only half day options. While some students who are doing two half-day sessions have chosen wildly different topics in order to diversity, some students have taken the opportunity to focus on one particular area of interest. “ I’ve had a blast with Makeup Design and Cosplay and Costuming,” said Junior Hannah Hargrove who has been in the Messalonskee Theater program for the past three years. “We learn a different thing every day, so it’s like all the important details to the class compressed into a week.”
What is so compelling about the YES program is that it gives teachers the opportunity to branch out beyond their usual academic subjects and share some of their passions with students. We have English department members teaching courses in Volleyball and Rugby, Language teachers teaching basic knitting, and one JMG specialist is running a course on Outdoor Survival Skills.
Even in departments like Music where courses fall a bit closer to their usual fare, the offerings provide a nice change of pace. Chorus Directors Kevin and Pam Rhein are running a female travel choir that is studying Renaissance choral music in preparation for a special Concert in Boston. Band Director Andy Forster is running a morning Beginning Band session that allows students to try their hand at playing an instrument for the first time, while his afternoon session takes people into the MHS recording studio where they learn how to craft movie sound effects.
English teacher Laurel Hanson is running the course on Cosplay and Costume design. “The students are so enthusiastic they don’t want to leave during lunch. They just want to keep working.”
Another YES program that has been receiving a ton of positive buzz is Haunted New England, headed up by History teacher Alan Derosby. The first week of the course was wrapped up with each group doing a night of paranormal investigation at the Readfield Historical Society. “It was so fun and the kids were totally into it,” said Mr. Derosby. “It helped that the first night we ran into some cool experiences.” Mr. Derosby covered both investigations on Twitter with the hashtag #messoghosts.
This is the program’s first year at MHS, and while it has not been entirely free of glitches, the overall reaction has been very positive. “As with any new program, we are learning and taking note of things that are coming up,” said Mr. Dunbar. “The groundswell of positivity about [the program] should help propel us forward into next year.”