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Unsung Hero: Edith Aronson, bringing educational vision to Freeport

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Unsung Hero: Edith Aronson, bringing educational vision to Freeport

FREEPORT — Edith Aronson, the daughter of a successful international businessman, grew up in a world of privilege.

She lived in London and New York, was educated at elite independent schools, and graduated from Harvard with a history major.

“We had a close family with a wonderful set of values," Aronson said. "We learned the importance of giving back to others. And I got a fabulous classical education.”

After Harvard, she headed to Los Angeles, where she was a successful television scriptwriter. “I was good at it,” Aronson said, “but I hated it. I needed something more.”

For that “something more,” Aronson turned to education.

She earned a teaching certificate from the University of Indiana, where she helped a noted professor produce teacher-training videos. She then taught sixth grade for six years in Westbrook, took some time off to earn her masters in education from Harvard, and returned to Westbrook to continue teaching.

In 2001, Aronson quit her teaching job, suffering from a case of teacher burnout and eager to explore other ways to pursue her passion for education. Around that time she joined her family foundation, which had a major commitment to supporting worthy education projects.

During her work with the foundation, Aronson met Pam Erickson, who was working at the time at Kiev-Wavus Education. The two women discovered that they shared a deep passion for education and similar beliefs on educational philosophy.

“We believe that schools should value a students interests, should encourage them to follow their own passions,” Aronson said.

In 2005, they incorporated Coastal Studies for Girls, a science and leadership school on seven acres at Wolfe’s Neck Farm. Aronson’s family foundation provided the seed money to develop plans for the school, which was designed to provide 10th-grade girls from across the country with an opportunity to spend a life-changing semester on the coast of Maine.

Pam Erickson was to serve as the executive director. Aronson would serve as chairwoman of the board; in addition, she assisted with curriculum development, spearheaded fundraising, and helped create promotional materials.

Supported by a significant three-year grant from Aronson’s family foundation, Coastal Studies welcomed its first class of 15 girls in February 2010.

“I love seeing the girls be 15 again, away from some of the pressures of their homes, schools and communities,” Erickson said. “They get to press ‘pause’ while they’re here, take stock of who they are, and challenge themselves in an environment drenched with support. Some of my fondest images are of the girls, clad in muck boots and seining nets, walking side by side, drenched in mud, conversing about the journey they just had through the mudflats near the school. They begin to see themselves and the world they live in with fresh eyes.”

The applied-research curriculum gives girls an in-depth experience in scientific exploration, with access to the latest technologies. Collaboration with educational and scientific organizations (including the Maine Department of Natural Resources and the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools) provides Coastal Studies and its students with a valuable network of support. Visiting scholars and scientists add further insights to the experience.

Enriched by their semester in Freeport, students in that first class commenced their college careers at an impressive array of colleges this fall: Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Middlebury, Mount Holyoke and the University of California-Berkeley, among others.

Erickson stressed Aronson’s pivotal role in converting Coastal Studies from dream to reality.

“Edith’s dedication and investment in getting CSG off the ground has been truly spectacular," she said. "Without her vision and generosity, this little school would not exist.”

Although Aronson appreciates Erickson's words, she said she realizes her greatest rewards from the growth of CSG students.

“There’s no bigger joy than seeing a kid’s eyes light up," she said. "We give them a place and the tools to help them go farther than they ever imagined.”