Lincoln Academy’s Alternative Education Program and DRA Partner to Provide Hands-on Learning Opportunities
Coffin is not alone, and this is not a new phenomenon. It was Ed Krawic who, as a shop instructor at Lincoln Academy more than twenty years ago, observed certain students who showed a genuine aptitude for learning but were failing their other classes. He saw the need for a different kind of program that could engage these students in their education by providing real-life, hands-on opportunities for learning within the community. The Alternative Education program was an answer to this need.
Through the Alternative Education program, students have the opportunity to work one-on-one with a teacher at their own pace, and design coursework, projects and field trips around their own interests and goals. Coffin, for example, designed and conducted an experiment this past year to determine the effectiveness of different types of fertilizer on growing sunflowers. He and a fellow student are currently incubating samples of bacteria taken from surfaces around the school for study in their science curriculum.
“These are students who thrive outside the traditional classroom,’’ explained science teacher Anna Myers, “people who learn better actually doing things in the real world.” Myers has made it her mission to provide those opportunities for her students within the community.
“Seeing those kids, who tend to be disengaged in the classroom… they were just in the flow of learning, threading strands of spruce roots through sheets of birch bark and attaching them to the supports.”
Her quest led Myers to contact Damariscotta River Association’s Director of Education Sarah Gladu last September, to see if Gladu would be willing to lead a field trip for Myers’ science students. Gladu was immediately taken with the idea, and the two educators, along with history and English teacher Stephany Morris, ended up designing an ongoing program that meets two to four times a month, focusing on the natural and cultural history of the region.
Under Gladu’s guidance, the group has taken tracking hikes on DRA preserves, dissected owl pellets, and studied phytoplankton and horseshoe crabs. The students learned about oysters in preparation for growing their own, and visited Brooks Trap Mill, discussing aquaculture in relation to the broader community. Fostering these kinds of connections fits in neatly with DRA’s mission to “preserve and promote the natural, cultural and historical heritage of the Damariscotta River and adjacent areas for the benefit of all.”
A recent project that was particularly memorable for both the students and their teachers involved working alongside Passamaquoddy artist and educator David Moses Bridges, building a traditional birch bark wigwam and learning about Wabanaki culture. “Seeing those kids, who tend to be disengaged in the classroom… they were just in the flow of learning, threading strands of spruce roots through sheets of birch bark and attaching them to the supports,” enthused Myers. A confirmed history buff, Coffin admitted that he learned much more about the Wabanaki culture by actually building a wigwam.
In addition to providing rich learning experiences outdoors, the students’ visits to DRA have changed the way they look at the world around them. Coffin, who works for his father in construction, says he has started thinking about where the building materials they use come from. His classmate, senior Zach Haley, shared that doing things like building shelters and looking for animal tracks made him look at the land differently. Now, when he’s outside, he looks more closely at what’s around him, and is more interested in taking care of the environment.
For Morris, the program has affirmed the importance of experiential education to achieve deeper understanding, especially for non-traditional learners. “Coming to the DRA has just been awesome,” agreed Myers. “Seeing the students so engaged makes me really excited about being an educator.”