The ninth grade at Casco Bay High School starts with the Freshman Quest, a week-long learning expedition with kayaking, backpacking, and other adventures. For the 2018-2019 school year, the Quest spawned the foundation for the students’ yearlong learning project to answer the question, “What makes a successful community?”
Good answers to that question can be found within Casco Bay’s own community. Crew, which meets thirty minutes every day, focuses on self-knowledge and community-building, with students leading “courageous conversations” on topics from cultural appropriation to gender roles.
Casco Bay’s inspiring curriculum starts with the Freshman Quest, but it does not end there—students have multiple expedition opportunities and a rich interdisciplinary program of project-based learning. Each year culminates in multiple exhibitions, with students sharing their work with each other and the local community. Exhibitions include themes such as Africa Rising, Income Inequality, and the Chemistry of Climate Change that allow students freedom to pursue their interests within a broader framework of social justice.
The curriculum includes ample opportunities for struggling students to catch up or for all students to enrich their experiences. In addition to within-school and after-school supports, students can earn course credits in Frost School (December), Mud School (late March), and Summer School. Casco Bay also offers week-long intensives, often taught in conjunction with community leaders, on topics such as Muslim American history and life (social studies credit), hip hop (English credit), and origami (math credit). Students set goals related to skills, knowledge, and Habits of Work and Learning (HOWL) that make for a well-conceived and principled (albeit elaborate) system for evaluating authentic student learning.
This challenging, interdisciplinary curriculum works because of the collaboration and leadership of Casco Bay’s teachers. Professional development is focused on equity and responds to teachers’ and students’ needs. A recent session was, for example, co-designed with student leaders and facilitated by students to encourage community-building among teachers and students.
Casco’s staff and administration show an amazing dedication to self-reflection as a vehicle for self-improvement. Although Casco Bay was already exemplary in many of the Schools of Opportunity criteria, they chose to use the application process as a chance to reflect on how they can improve, which means that we can look forward to even greater things from Casco Bay High School moving forward.