High school can feel like a minefield: the cliques, the rules, the one- textbook-fits-all approach.
“I hated school before Harpswell Coastal Academy (HCA),” says Karli Jo Clark ’18. “I transferred there as a sophomore because I loved learning but didn’t like the one-student-fits-all mold. I’ve always been pretty bright, so I felt I should be able to pursue extracurriculars that may not necessarily be what everyone else is doing.”
She was lured by HCA’s appreciation for independent learning: “If I wanted to learn how to play an entire album, I was given time to do that during school.” Provided students show how they will execute a project and don’t abuse teachers’ trust, she adds, they are given that freedom; it’s one reason HCA is especially suited for those who are self-directed.
“Before HCA, I was an angry person,” Karli Jo says. “I felt like my voice wasn’t heard, so going to a school where I felt understood was validating.” For example, she cites the school’s weekly community circles, where people can voice concerns (and kudos) about HCA happenings.
As part of her documentary class dedicated to the working waterfront, Karli Jo found her voice — literally. Previously shy about performing music (she sings as well as plays guitar and piano), a teacher’s support aided her confidence . Now 21, she loves performing at coffeehouses and hopes to use pandemic down-time to record an album.
“Before HCA, I was an angry person. I felt like my voice wasn’t heard, so going to a school where I felt understood was validating.”
After graduating, she filmed a documentary in India for a nonprofit that provides job training, food, shelter, and therapeutic services to women there. The women learned to sew and were either provided with industry jobs or given assistance to launch their own businesses. The film delved into the backstory of two participants who were child brides, and how that fate eroded their lives.
If Karli Jo back-burners law school, she has plenty of other aspirations. She graduates Full Sail University in Florida this spring in a mere 2.5 years with a creative writing degree. She is designing a website with her writing portfolio and — true to that entrepreneurial spirit championed by her high school — might launch her own writing and marketing business.
“I found my way at HCA,” she says. Taking courses at Southern Maine Community College and a paid restaurant internship via the school (where she leapt from dishwashing to menu planning and budgeting with Excel) were part of that process. Chasing her passions via independent study projects, she adds, fed the confidence to set a goal and complete a task in the same way you’d develop a business. “It ties back to that independence you get at HCA,” she says.
“It makes you feel like you can do anything!”