In an increasingly global job market, students must be fluent in science, technology, engineering, and math to remain competitive. This set of topics, often referred to as STEM education, has been at the forefront of school districts’ agendas in Maine. These programs seek interconnections amongst STEM subjects, and use real-world scenarios to teach students critical thinking and problem solving techniques. High schoolers in the Portland area with a strong interest in growing their STEM knowledge will soon have another choice for their alma maters.
The Baxter Academy, a Maine charter school, will open its doors to teens across the state next September. The school is the first of its kind in Southern Maine; the Maine School of Science and Mathematics serves a similar purpose in Aroostook County. Now, students in the Portland area will have opportunities to explore interests in biology, architecture, computer programming, and more while living at home.
“The Baxter Academy gives students more options,” explained John Jacques, Baxter Academy’s Executive Director. “We want to help people find a better fit for their kids. Our mission is to serve a group of students with a more specific set of interests.” To help cultivate STEM skills, Baxter Academy will offer more hands-on, expeditionary style learning. For instance, a biology course might venture on Casco Bay Lines to explore the islands. The school also plans on including an internship component that partners students with local businesses and research centers, like the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
The Baxter Academy will strengthen Maine’s already-strong record in STEM education. The STEM Education Coalition, which gives states rankings based on their public school performance, ranked Maine sixth in the nation for the percentage of high schoolers ready for college based on both their ACT math and science scores. Additionally, Maine is the state with the best pupil to teacher ratio in the country (11.9 students per teacher, versus a national average of 15.47).
When it opens in September 2012, Baxter Academy will accept 80 students for both its freshman and sophomore class. Students will be chosen through a lottery system if more apply than the school can accept. The application process will get underway late this fall, after the Department of Education finalizes the school’s charter. Interested parents and students are encouraged to check the school’s website for updates regarding applications and the ultimate location of the school.