FREEPORT — Nyrobi Tyson, a 16-year-old from Asheville, N.C., spent the last five weeks traveling New England with 11 other students in the inaugural class of the Field Academy.
Tyson participated in the Away but Home program and studied what home and community means to people living throughout New England. The students took that information and explored what home means to them and how they fit into their own communities.
“We focused on what community and citizenship means,” Tyson said. “And our role as a community member.”
Tyson was also a member of Coastal Studies for Girls, a 16-week program designed for sophomore girls focusing on leadership and science.
“The Field Academy is similar to CSG, but different,” she said. “The structure and core values are different. We traveled a lot, there were boys involved, and we focused on community and citizenship. They are both intense programs that pushed my limits.”
Co-founders Jen Lazar, Claire Hirschmann and Heather Foran worked together to create a school that will soon become a two-year residential high school for 40 juniors and seniors. Their mission is to educate the students to be exceptional individuals, to forge communities that inspire citizenship, and to know the world and its systems as their school.
The school will use a sustainable farm in greater Portland as a campus and home base, they said, and the students will travel the United States to learn about its history, people and environment.
Hirschmann said the school provides students who are not stimulated by traditional classroom learning an opportunity to excel. At the graduation ceremony on July 28 at the Freeport Community Library, she told parents, grandparents, friends and supporters that the Field Academy is a school that connects living and learning.
“We wanted to create a place where the students are learning about what they are doing, and doing what they are learning,” she said.
The program is unique in that the students are able to offer feedback about what they want their education to look like, Foran said.
“In a classroom, students are often given information and they don’t know what to do with it,” she said. “This school is unique in that the students create their own experience from the study of history, economy and ecology. They create their own communities and see where they, as individuals, fit within that.”
The graduation ceremony was a chance for the 12 students from around the U.S. and one Canadian province to share photos of their travels, stories of their experiences and what they learned about themselves and others to their friends and families.
Over five weeks they worked on a farm in Vermont, hiked the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, visited a Penobscot Indian Reservation in Maine, gave a presentation at Tufts University in Boston, spent a day on a lobster boat and on an island community in Casco Bay.
Amalia Leamon of Williamstown, Mass., one of three triplets to participate in the Away but Home program, said she was very nervous in the beginning, but the experience opened her eyes to herself and her community.
“I learned about my strengths and learned how to strengthen myself within my community,” she said.
Her sister Sophie, said she discovered she could challenge herself, set goals for herself, meet those expectations and thrive. She said she learned that she craves adventure and wants to jump into life “feet first.”
“I see communities in different ways now,” she said. “I want to spread the value of the self and communities and make the world better.”
The Field Academy co-founders said they are more than pleased with the outcome of the pilot program.
“To me, the most powerful part is that the nebulous idea we envisioned – in all its pieces, connections and inspiration – is a reality,” Hirschmann said. “The school is a balance of between community and individual growth.”
Lazar said the students learned so much by living with other teens from different parts of North America, each with their own perspective and different backgrounds.
“This experience impacted the students and those they came in contact with,” she said. “We created something that extended beyond us and our group.”
Between now and the fall of 2012 the three co-founders, teachers and supporters will work on capacity building, fundraising, program development and outreach, Lazar said.
To download an application and for more information about the school, visit www.fieldacademy.org.
The three co-founders of the Field Academy, Heather Foran, left, Jen Lazar and Claire Hirschmann, say they are passionate about exploration, education and community.
Teens from around North America graduated from the Field Academy’s five-week summer program last week. The 12 students are the school’s founding class and will help modify the program as it develops into a two-year high school for juniors and seniors.