Baxter Academy of Technology and Science is a charter high school located in Portland, Maine and consists of 220 students in grades 9-11 (Baxter will be a 9-12 school during the 2015-16 school year). There are 19 teachers and one educational technician who are lucky to work at this incredible school. They have a 17% special education population. Baxter is comprised of students from 54 different towns and 34 different school districts.
Learning in this unique school is project-based and driven by student inquiry. From Monday through Thursday, there are five classes per day with Friday being the day that students use to work on projects and receive additional support with their studies. In between trimesters is a week that includes one professional development day for staff, two days of community service, and student lead conferences.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this school is the students themselves. I had the great pleasure of sitting in on a creative song-writing class. I asked the students what makes their school great and here are just some of their responses:
“The teachers help you learn when you mess up. They make us a priority.”
“Baxter is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“We all have different learning styles, but all of our needs are met.”
“The teachers allow me to follow my passion. They are letting me explore what I want to be when I am older. Like, the chairs here aren’t comfortable so I am creating a new chair design that will be more comfortable for all of us.”
“I didn’t fit in at my other school. I wasn’t like everyone else. Here, everyone is accepting of all our differences. Bullying doesn’t exist here because we are all unique and everyone gets that. Baxter fits with all my needs.”
“The students here are involved with most aspects of the school.” According to the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science handbook, “The Student Judiciary Board (or J-Board as they call it) serves as the judicial branch of Baxter Academy Governance and is composed entirely of students with a faculty advisor. While it is the responsibility of the Student Senate to inform the development of school norms and our ‘Baxtitution,’ it is the responsibility of the Judiciary Board to hold members of our community accountable for violating the school norms as explained in the Baxtitution. As a result, students appearing before the Judiciary Board who are found guilty of violating school norms receive timely and appropriate consequences for their actions.”
Two 10th grade students, Will and Miranda, gave me a tour of Baxter Academy. They were able to describe each of the classes – even if they were not in those classes – and state why students were excited about learning in the Great Room, “Fab lab” and CAD lab and so much more. Miranda stated, “I want to be a novelist when I grow up. I went to the teachers and told them I wanted to have a Novel Writing elective. They listened to me and now one exists.”
Meeting the needs of individual students is the primary goal of the staff at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science. Students do not learn only within the walls of the school. Many of their 11th grade students take on-line and on-campus college courses that apply to both their high school and college credits.
The principal, Michele LaForge, called “Michele” by her students, is proud to be a member of this community. She and her staff know each and every one of the students and what their needs and interests are. These relationships are what drive the teachers to helping the students become the best version of themselves. “If there are more applicants for a place at Baxter than there are spaces, there is a lottery system to determine the students who attend will Baxter the next year,” says Michele, “I don’t think that every student needs to come to Baxter, but I would like for everyone who wants to, to be able to come. It is really sad when there isn’t a spot for a student who wants to attend.”
One 9th grade student summed up Baxter Academy for Technology and Science with a phenomenal analogy, “The teachers and students at Baxter are like a slinky. We are strong and indestructible. We might get tangled up sometimes, but we work together and we fix it.”