Freeport schools growing fast, programs try to accommodate
FREEPORT — As Regional School Unit 5 enters it's fourth year, administrators hope to continue traditional programs, but are also looking for creative ways to teach students in an ever-growing district.
Freeport High School is one school in the district that has seen its classroom headcounts grow over the last few years. It's now operating at 96 percent capacity, with 545 students, an increase of 25 from last year, said Superintendent Shannon Welsh.
"We have had to put a science class in a room without a lab," she said, noting that the school is currently undergoing a facility study to look for new spaces for art and Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, better known as STEM, classes. "Right now, we are making use of the space we have. We just need to watch enrollments and respond as needed."
Ideally, schools should be operating at about 82 percent capacity, Welsh said, but right now, most the rooms are full.
With an expansion plan that won't see a school board vote for the initial design until the end of September and construction of that plan at least two and half years out, the school will have to make due for now.
In spite of the growth, Freeport High School and Middle School have taken advantage of a program that allows students to take classes that limited space might not allow.
The program is called Virtual High School and has expanded slightly since it launched at Freeport schools three years ago, with 25 students this year, up from 15 last year.
The program offers students the chance to choose from more than 400 classes online that might not be available at their school, such as Advanced Placement and specialized science courses.
The program is international and has students from 32 countries, said Carol Arnold, a spokeswoman for the program, which is a nonprofit based in Maynard, Mass. She said that Maine students often take classes alongside students from at least three different countries.
The classes stress independent learning, which she said, is also preparation for college and professional life.
This year, a Freeport High School teacher was sent to four-week development training this summer for the program. She will be the new site coordinator this coming school year.
In addition to the virtual program, the district has also continued its involvement in a literacy program at Columbia University in New York, called the Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project.
The program is designed to enhance teachers' ability to teach reading to students from kindergarten to eighth grade. The district has also been participating in this program for three years and hopes it provides a "strong and effective reading program" for students, Welsh said.
The district is also continuing its Jobs for Maine Grads program, which is currently offered to Durham and Freeport Middle School students, as well as, Freeport High students.
The program is designed to prepare students for the workforce by showing them general work skills and giving them the opportunity to job shadow once they are in high school.