By Andrew Smaha,
Business & Finance Director
Brunswick, Maine – Harpswell Coastal Academy (HCA) is pleased to announce that science teacher Mel Christensen Fletcher has received the 2018 James McBride Teaching Award for her project-based work with students in and around the communities of Harpswell and Brunswick. This award, offered through the Jonathan D. Krist Foundation, is named after the distinguished author and musician James McBride. The award was presented in a ceremony today at the Harpswell Coastal Academy Brunswick campus.
Ms. Christensen Fletcher has long been committed to teaching scientific methodology through projects that have real impact on Mid-Coast Maine students. Her fieldwork guiding HCA students through a class called “Technology & Nature” has been of particular importance. In this learning experience, students examine the impacts that technology use versus time spent in nature can have on one’s physical and mental health.
“As I explore this topic with students, and research the psychological impacts of technology use on young people, I have grown more and more concerned about how to help students find balance in their lives,” states Christensen Fletcher. “I work with many students whose mental health is suffering from over-use of technology (often compounding other problems) and I am challenged to help these young people recover from over saturation to a place where they are ready to learn. In the coming years, I want to work with others to discover the best practices to help students to learn to balance life in a digital world.”
“We are so proud of Mel, and her ability to focus on what is important to our school: experiential, place-based learning,” says Carrie Branson, Executive Director of Harpswell Coastal Academy. She has a knack of how to teach in the natural spaces around us, and adapts quite well to the special demands of bringing the student experience outside the traditional four walls of a classroom.”
Since the award was established in 2014, 22 teachers have received recognition. Mel Christensen Fletcher is the first regional teacher to receive this honor, with all previous winners residing in New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and California.
Ms. Christensen Fletcher is a graduate of the University of Maine at Farmington with a degree in Secondary Education Earth and Space Science and a minor in English. Most recently, she worked in Special Education at Westbrook Middle School and advised WMS’s drama program for 5th-8th graders. Mel has a passion for outdoor education and has been involved in summer camps and other programming at the Cathance River Education Alliance preserve in Topsham for nearly ten years.
With this award, Mel hopes to continue her work with outdoor science education at HCA. “I am really excited about the work we’ve done as a faculty to launch a comprehensive environmental studies pathway for students grades 9-12. This spring, I’ve been out on field work almost every morning with students working in forest inventory growth plots and vernal pools, or working on digital media projects along the Cathance River. The enthusiasm shown by students for this type of hands-on study and documentation in local ecosystems has reinforced our vision for a strong, student-driven citizen science program at HCA for many years.”