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AN INSPIRATIONAL JOURNEY

By Alex Lear Community Leader Staff Writer

Tim Greenway photo

Coastal Studies for Girls prepares to build a new school community

J.B . Kavaliauskas, left, and Pam Erickson, co-founders of Coastal Studies for Girls school program, sit outside the 150-year-old Ward House on Wolfe's Neck Road in Freeport, which will become part of the all-girls boarding school they are founding.

"It will be a place for them to learn about the leadership and academic abilities which they have, as well as the potential they have in reaching their goals."

­J.B. KAVALIAUSKAS

Kavaliauskas said the barn's timbers remain strong. "It needs a lot of work, but our hope is to maintain the structure as it is," Erickson said, "to keep some elements of the rural character here and breathe new life into it." Each later phase could take about a year. Phase two would tackle renovation of the Ward House itself, providing office and faculty living space. A residential building will come in phase three, and a classroom each in phases four and five. Prior to each phase, CSG has assured the Wolfe's Neck Farm Foundation and the community that it will have the funding for it in place. Erickson said CSG has no plans to expand upon 32 students per semester. Summer programming would last eight weeks, with teacher education programming comprising three of those weeks, and no more than 32 people would be in residence for any summer program, CSG has said. "It's a small community ... it's designed that way on purpose," Erickson said, explaining that semester schools tend to embrace small enrollments. "It's less about serving a lot of kids and more about serving fewer kids more deeply." The school will eventually have four female interns, who'll live in the residential area with the girls, and faculty will be onsite to provide adult supervision 24 hours a day and seven days a week for safety and emergency purposes. While scientific research will be at the heart of the school -- in the form of the coastal marine ecosystems and environmental science seminar courses -- a leadership adventure course is also a key part of the curriculum, and history, English, math (algebra II, geometry or precalculus) and intermediate levels of French and Spanish also make up the educational tapestry. The curriculum will be based on the Maine Learning Results and national standards. Kavaliauskas will head up the school's educational program, as well as teaching the environmental science seminar. She said the girls will be up by around 6 or 7 a.m., to do some sort of morning exercise to get the energy flowing, make sure their residences are clean and then have breakfast. They might go to classes and spend a few hours in a field or a lab, or they may spend the whole day at a research site. After having dinner and cleaning up, the girls will have a study hall, and the day should wind down by 9 p.m. so that they can be up early again the next morning. Sunday would be the students'day off, and popcorn and movies in the afternoon could provide a much-deserved break. "They're fairly exhausted, in a very good way," Kavaliauskas said, looking ahead. "They feel like they've accomplished a great deal in a day, let alone 16 weeks." "It's not a summer camp ... it's a mix of what effective education can be," Erickson said, referring to academic and experiential educational paths and "an inspirational journey for young women." It's the kind of journey Erickson herself would have enjoyed taking at age 15. Now 43, she met Kavaliauskas about 12 years ago at a summer experiential education program in Maine. Since both had teaching backgrounds that included experiential education, the two Wisconsinborn women decided to start their own program but broaden it into a semester-long experience. That experience is one they wish to offer young women from all parts of the country and all economic circumstances, and they plan to offer scholarships from the start to help those in financial need. It will be a place for them to learn about the leadership and academic abilities which they have, as well as the potential they have in reaching their goals, Kavaliauskas explained. "I don't have expectations of 64 scientists leaving here," she said, "but I do have expectations of helping girls remember what they already know about themselves."

Pam Erickson drove over a bridge on Burnett Road in Freeport that took her from her office and toward Wolfe's Neck Road, to the site of the school program she cofounded. It was the Thursday before Christmas, a bright and warm morning on the shortest day of year, as the sun shone over Casco Bay. The setting blended together two elements of Maine's rich history -- the coast and the farmland -- and is the site where Coastal Studies for Girls is being forged. "What's better than living on the coast of Maine in a farm house with a view of Casco Bay?" Erickson asked. Coastal Studies for Girls has drawn a mixture of support and skepticism from Freeporters. To some, it's a much-needed economic shot in the arm for Wolfe's Neck Farm, which is leasing eight of its approximately 630 acres to the school for the project. Others, including residents of nearby Birch Point Road, are concerned that an allgirls boarding school for sophomores could disrupt the quiet nature of their rural community. This fall, the Town Council determined that the school would be appropriate for the zone in which it's located, and on Dec. 19 the Freeport Project Review Board gave final approval, with conditions, to the school. With those major hurdles behind them, Erickson and CSG co-founder J.B. Kavaliauskas are looking forward to getting underway with the first of five phases of the approximately $5-6 million project. The first phase, projected to cost about $1.9 million, would comprise of rehabilitation of the Ward House barn on the property, a 150-year-old structure that has clearly seen better days. An addition is also planned for the building. Also included in that cost is site work, such as installing a well and two new septic systems and building three parking lots -- one which will be seeded over and used on rare occasions for overflow parking. CSG is committed to improving the barn, which will house the entire school in its first year -- 2008-09, if all goes well. Although the school will be intended for 32 girls for two semesters a year -- 64 annually -- the renovated barn will house an initial student population of about 20.

Tim Greenway photo

Rehabiliation of the Ward House barn, and construction of an addition, will be part of the first phase of the school's construction.

The legacy of the land

According to Randall Thomas of the Freeport Historical Society, the Greek Revival style design of the Ward farmhouse places its construction around the 1850s. Sallie Smith can remember knowing the Mr. Ward after whom the house and barn are named. It was Smith's parents, Lawrence M.C. and Eleanor Houston Smith, who purchased 275 acres at Wolfe's Neck in 1946, buying the piece that Ward lived on afterward, among many other properties. She and her five siblings, who range in age from 58 to 73 (she's the second youngest at 63), summered on the land, which became a saltwater organic beef farm, according to the Freeport Historical Society. Smith recalls Ward having only one arm, with the sleeve pinned up on the missing appendage. While her parents owned the land on which his house stood, he maintained the right to live there. When he died, the rights went to his second wife. Upon her death, the house went to the Smith family. A decade after Lawrence Smith's 1975 death, his wife and her children donated the bulk of Wolfe's Neck Farm to the American Farmland Trust, and it was administered by the University of Southern Maine, according to the historical society. The gift was made with the stipulation that the land be used for agricultural, education and recreational purposes. The Wolfe's Neck Farm Foundation later took over the property, and the six Smith siblings -- who comprise a legal entity known as the Cascoseeket Association -- voted 5-1 in support of the foundation leasing eight acres to Coastal Studies for Girls.

This article appeared in The Community Leader on Dec. 28, 2006

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