How Do HCA Students Learn to Care For Their Environment?



By Andrew Smaha,
Business & Finance Director

Andrew Smaha, Business & Finance Director

Students at HCA receive the unique opportunity to truly connect with and explore the surrounding environment. Our staff focuses on getting students outside, providing an authentic context for them to connect with the natural world around them.

Our Division 2 Science Teacher Mel Christensen Fletcher has strong passions for the environment, outside education, citizen science, and project-based learning. Her lessons are designed to first provide students with the basic knowledge needed to know how to conduct research projects through examination and immersive learning, so students can take that knowledge and apply it to the areas they are interested in. From tracking the school’s four forest inventory plots to exploring the many ecosystems found in the Harpswell community, the students learn to think both critically and creatively to create research projects based on their own interests.

This year, 9th graders have started investigating what’s happening with a number of trees around Brunswick Landing that had leaves dying back in late summer. While some of the trees have new growth appearing, many are still covered with leaves that have dried out and are full of holes. The students are looking for connections to drought, disease, insects, or pollutants to figure out what may be affecting some trees but not others. “Playing the role of researchers allows students to understand the resources that are available to them and how humans impact those resources. This allows them to start thinking about how they can be leaders in their community, become responsible business owners, and more,” says Mel.

By the end of the year, students have will have evolved to become the ones in charge of their projects, using new findings to change direction and communicating with other groups in the community about what they are finding. Some student-developed research is even carried by students in the following years, who expand upon the original project, allowing for a collective understanding of the environment through a larger picture.

HCA’s focus on environmental learning and outside education prepares students for enacting intentional change in their communities and sets them up to become advocates and leaders. Like all things at HCA, students leave knowing how to apply their interests and knowledge to enact change.