Growing up in Blue Hill, the ocean was an integral part of Ellie Gellerson’s life. Her father always worked at sea in some capacity, lobstering, fishing, or building boats. But it wasn’t until Gellerson got more than a thousand miles from home — studying beach erosion in South Carolina for an independent study project as a senior at George Stevens Academy — that she could envision a career on the water in Maine.
“The experience showed me how integral science could be to my local economy and fellow citizens,” says Gellerson, who graduated from GSA in 2018, and is now studying marine science at Maine Maritime Academy. “In a classroom, you rarely see how hands-on science and research can be.”
Gellerson is among scores of GSA grads who have found a calling thanks to the school’s experience-based curriculum that draws from the community’s natural, historic, and cultural resources.
Though GSA offers conventional high school academics — including advanced placement and college-prep courses — more than one-third of classes have a practical focus, with titles like forensics, outdoor leadership, culinary arts, and physics through technology. In ocean studies class, for example, students can collaborate with local researchers who are exploring ways to develop new sustainable fisheries.
In their junior and senior years, GSA students spend up to three weeks doing independent study projects or internships. Two-thirds of those projects occur on the Blue Hill Peninsula, giving students an opportunity to forge connections with the community that last long after graduation. At least six GSA grads now work as public school principals in coastal Maine — thanks to these internships and other experiences at GSA.
“When students get to experience the world beyond the classroom, they understand how to apply what they learn,” says Libby Rosemeier, GSA’s assistant head of school, who is also a GSA alum. “They see opportunities to build lives for themselves here, and enrich the community.”
During an independent study with a local builder, Homer Lowell learned how to parlay his affinity for industrial arts into a career in residential construction. He also learned what it was like to work 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. five days a week. “It gives you a good perspective of life outside of the classroom,” says Lowell, who graduated from GSA in 1973.
Just as important, students get an opportunity to find out what they don’t want to do. Before her experience in South Carolina, Gellerson had wanted to start a farm instead of going to college. But after a two-week independent study at a local farm, she realized she’d prefer to keep farming as a hobby rather than as a career.
“That’s why George Stevens is so wonderful,” Gellerson says. “It allows you to explore things you’re interested in and find out if this is truly something you want to do, or if it’s just not for you.”
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