PORTLAND — The start of the academic year is still about a month away, but 14 high-school students already have finished a class assignment at Waynflete School.
The students – from Waynflete and other schools in New England and Canada – last week completed Waynflete’s Sustainable Ocean Studies program, a month-long “field trip” on the Maine coast. Each student will receive one semester of credit in science.
On July 27, they shared the results of their work in presentations to members of the Chewonki Foundation, a Wiscasset-based organization that co-sponsors the program.
SOS participants learned first-hand about the complex relationships among the coast’s ecology, economy and culture. The curriculum included helping researchers collect census data on seal populations, learning to fish on a commercial lobster boat and traveling to Cliff Island in Casco Bay to discuss the challenges of island life with local residents.
Students also did classwork at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center in Walpole, where they learned about topics such as the history and regulation of New England fisheries.
The goal of these activities is to show students the diverse factors that influence the ocean’s health and sustainability, according to SOS Director David Vaughan.
“Making ecologically responsible decisions about the ocean also requires consideration of the economic and cultural impact of those decisions,” he said. “Students come into our program thinking about ecology, and our goal is to give them an appreciation of the complexity and validity of the other voices involved.
“Conservation organizations and others have to sit down in partnership,” Vaughn continued. “Nothing positive is going to happen when they’re in opposition.”
Waynflete began SOS in 2010, “in keeping with the school’s goal of connecting learning to the community,” he said. “With the school being on the ocean, it seemed like an obvious choice for us to connect students with life along the Gulf of Maine.”
After struggling to stay afloat financially, SOS partnered this year with Chewonki, Vaughn said. The foundation, founded in 1915, operates and supports a variety of environmental education programs. SOS also relies on private grants and donations.
The most recent is from Bristol Seafood, a Portland seafood-processor that last week announced a $5,000 grant to provide financial aid for SOS students. Tuition for the program is $4,000.
Admission to SOS is through a competitive process. Students must complete an application that includes essays and teacher recommendations.
One of the students who completed this summer’s program was Emmett DeMaynadier, who is about to enter his sophomore year at Waterville High School.
DeMaynadier called the program “a really great introduction” and said he enjoyed the chance to use what he learned to develop his “personal research question” – a proposal for further study, required of each SOS student. DeMaynadier’s question focused on how boat motors may affect how whales use sound waves to communicate and navigate.
“Over the course of the month, we saw and helped with a lot of research,” he said. “The (SOS program) takes all that learning and applies it to the real world. I think that’s pretty rare in high school.”
DeMaynadier, an avid swimmer who is “always in the water,” said he also enjoyed learning to scuba-dive as part of the program. But he didn’t enroll in SOS for the recreation; he said he plans to pursue a career in marine biology.
“Each of our students has had an abiding interest in the marine environment,” Vaughn said. “They’re not your standard summer campers.”