Coastal Studies for Girls
A Coastal Connection
By Samantha DePoy-Warren
FREEPORT- Pam Erickson and Ginger Jones smile as they scan the second-story dormitory, empty save for the sheet-less single beds pushed against freshly-painted walls.
“It’s so,” Jones says, pausing to truly take it all in. “Well, quiet. But not for long.”
In February, the Freeport farmhouse will be alive with the giggling of girls as they settle in for the inaugural semester of Coastal Studies for Girls (CSG), the nation’s first residential science and leadership semester school for 10th grade girls.
During the 16 weeks they’ll study marine and environmental science and learn leadership, the pioneering class of 15 students will live together in the very room where Erickson, the school’s executive director, and Jones, its director of development, sit on this summer day, in between interviewing prospective teachers and reviewing applications from interested students from around the country.
“It will be so awesome to see 14 or 15-year-old girls walk in here with joy and apprehension all wound together,” Erickson says of what she expects to feel when her dream finally comes to fruition with the arrival of students soon. “By the time they get through the house and up here, they’ll be staking out their space. This will be the quietest it’ll ever be,” Jones predicts.
“And the cleanest,” Erickson adds with a laugh.
While the classrooms on the first floor of the renovated 1850s farmhouse and the blue bay that lies just across Wolfe’s Neck Road will be where the program’s formalized learning takes place, both Erickson and Jones expect much of the girls’ growth to happen here, in this bare bedroom that will soon be colored with the conversation of the students, and the posters and pieces of home that will likely come with them.
“We’ll plan so much of the curriculum, but so much of the learning is going to happen right here during these late night conversations between the girls or when they gather outside on the rock underneath the apple tree,” envisions Erickson. “This first class especially has such an opportunity -and really a responsibility- to be a pioneer and help us develop this. How cool are they to get to do that? The staff here all wishes we could have gotten this chance when we were 14.”
And it hasn’t just been the girls getting an education.
“Learning is happening here at all different levels- staff, students and volunteers,” Erickson explains. “It’s been experimental and dynamic and that’s what we come here every day, even thought there are a lot of safer places we could be.”
Despite the risk related to the startup, the school has found a safety net in its intensely intertwined connections with ICL. Erickson is a graduate of the Omicron class, and Jones of Kappa.
The leadership lessons both learned through the ICL Leadership Intensive and subsequent interactions with ICL since have served as a model for the mission of the school and the design of its programming. For example, Erickson says the thoughtfulness ICL puts into the recruitment of each intensive class has inspired CSG’s own admissions process and also taught them of the value of diversity. As a result, the first class of girls will include students from Maine to Maryland, and representing public, private and home schooling educational backgrounds.
The curriculum’s focus on leadership was also born from their ICL learnings.
In late September, CSG will convene local leadership gurus to see how to best incorporate leadership education in the practice and culture of the school.
“The science is a platform, but the leadership really determines what they’ll do with it,” says Erickson. But it is perhaps the relationships built through ICL connections including Intensive classmates and other ICL stakeholders that have proved most valuable.
ICL alumni have made financial contributions as well as donations of school equipment and furniture like beds, lab sinks and even a refrigerator.
In May, Erickson’s Omicron classmates came to campus for a morning of volunteer work as part of their reward retreat for winning a recent ICL annual appeal challenge. Among them was Lisa Plummer, vice-president of corporate liquidations at LL Bean, who also sits on CSG’s board of directors. Other Omicron graduates involved in CSG include David Ruff, the executive director of the Great Schools Partnership, who sits on the school’s education committee and Maura Halkiotis, finance director for the town of Yarmouth, who sits on the finance committee for CSG. Elyse Tipton, a graduate of the Mu class, and the communications director for Maine Audubon, is a communications advisor to the school.
Laura Moorehead, ICL’s training director, helped to coordinate that work session, which included cleaning, landscaping and putting together the beds that the girls will soon sleep in. She sits on the board of directors for Coastal Studies for Girls, and says that “When Pam tells people her vision, they flock to it.”
Erickson and Jones agree its especially easy to speak to those affiliated with ICL about that vision, because, as Erickson puts it, they “walk the walk.”
“A lot of my best friends are ICL folks and that network is helpful. It’s such an important foundation and that shared experience of being an ICL alum makes it ever stronger,” Jones says. “There is this shared ICL speak and so when we talk to them about what we are trying to do here, they get it.”
What they are trying to do between now and February of 2010 is extensive, and will no doubt leverage the ICL leadership network.
Jones says the primary needs are girls -the launching class is currently about half full; funding -an additional $200,000 needs to be raised to open the doors; and new friends who will work to support the organization in whatever way they can and help expand the CSG network.
“There is no doubt that ICL’s network has connections to all of the things we need,” Jones said. While that list of must-do’s may seem daunting, Erickson says with the mission in mind, anything is possibly at CSG. “We know what we’re doing here is important. These girls will be getting at their voice at the same age where they might be losing their confidence,” she says. “To be such a unique niche, I have no doubt we’ll be wildly successful.”
For more information about Coastal Studies for Girls, go to their Web site at www.coastalstudiesforgirls.org or visit the school during one of their regular public open houses every Friday from noon to 3 p.m. at 308 Wolfe’s Neck Road in Freeport.