Travelling north along the eastern coast of the US, you’ll find Blue Hill, a small seaside town on a scenic rural peninsula in the state of Maine. Just north of town, eagles fly around Blue Hill Mountain from which the town takes its name. In the other direction and you’ll be mesmerised by the picturesque Blue Hill Bay, dotted with small evergreen-topped islands.
For boarding student Noel Da, these features contributed to a unique boarding experience at George Stevens Academy (GSA).
GSA serves as the 9 to 12 high school for more than 300 students from local towns, across the US, and around the globe. “Blue Hill is a welcoming place, a unique place. It is artistic and cultural, and the scenery and environment are beautiful. You would not get this in other places,” enthuses Da. “Everything is very, very welcoming. Everyone here is nice and interested in you and how you are doing.”
GSA is a school and community where students are seen and supported with empathy by teachers. It exudes an atmosphere that is supportive and inspiring where students can express, excel, and be themselves, whether in the classroom, sports fields or even in the school’s hallways. Here, instead of pop culture and social media, the school’s connected community and a beautiful natural setting form the backdrop for learning and thriving.
Da, a junior and a high honours student at GSA, leads a fashion club, creates and produces a philosophy podcast, serves on the school’s climate council, plays the piano, and has a passion for Latin. “GSA staff is very supportive of individual interests,” she says. “The dynamism of being with a creative, supportive bunch of people is super fun.”
The typical GSA student is like Da: seen, supported and engaged. Being able to enjoy countless opportunities, endless support and a passion-sparking responsive curriculum makes this possible. It is a place to “pursue the life you are happy for.”
GSA’s signature Independent Study and Internship Programme provides opportunities for students in grades 11 and 12 to follow their interests in real-world settings. A life-changing independent learning experience, this programme lets students go in-depth in projects inspired by academic, personal or professional inclinations. GSA has a close relationship with its unique and supportive community and connects its students to mentors and professionals in their fields.
The programme reflects the school’s core mission to foster a love of knowledge and instil self-confidence in students. Students love what it does for them, helping them discover their ambitions and passions.
Just ask senior GSA student Clementine Bannon who has completed the programme and will be attending Bowdoin College this fall. “I loved my Independent project. I worked at our local district attorney’s office. It was super hands-on and I felt like I was on the job. I was able to get real-life experience while still in school and begin to figure out what I wanted to do in the future,” shares Bannon.
With independent study, GSA students get a valuable glimpse of how important academics are in what they want to do in life. “You can see the benefits of learning and academic work,” says Bannon.
A responsive curriculum combined with passionate teachers leads GSA students to seek out opportunities to learn, grow, and be challenged. It’s a recipe followed throughout the school.
GSA’s visual and performing arts programme is a good example. It’s intelligent, hip and relevant. Music and the arts, and the creative spirit, permeate the culture of the school and community.
Music director Phelan Gallagher, a graduate of the GSA class of 2002, helps students produce original work with podcasts, recording studios, as well as video and sound equipment. “We have exciting things going on in the arts programme. It’s collaborative, it’s interdisciplinary and we are working together for a common goal — breaking down traditional barriers,” enthuses Gallagher.
The Spring Arts Festival is another innovative programme that brings a supportive community of local artists to campus, allowing students to connect with fellow creatives and develop an appreciation for art in all its forms. With such features, it’s easy for GSA students to find meaning and purpose in art.
According to English teacher Martin Conte (GSA class of 2011), the key to engaging students in a rigorous academic programme is to take their perspectives into account when crafting a lesson. “It’s centering student interest that creates the fire, inspiration, and motivation,” says Conte. Through this approach, he can create college-level experiences that emphasise probing questions and innovative answers.
The same recipe is applied in GSA’s approach to physical education and athletics. Students participate in a wide range of physical activities while also connecting with nature, developing leadership skills, and preparing to lead healthy, happy lives. GSA has 29 athletic teams that are frequent regional and state champions; players are also known throughout the region for their excellent sportsmanship and inclusiveness.
In science as well, inquiry-based, lab-intensive, and experiential learning engages the interests and curiosity of the students. Regular field trips to the rocky coast and rich natural area keeps the curriculum relevant and timely.
The best part of GSA? Whether you are inclined to the arts, athletics, math, or science, GSA offers you the path to your next steps. With AP and honours classes in each discipline, GSA offers academic rigour, knowledge and support for its students to excel. Students go to the best colleges and universities as grounded individuals — happy, connected, and capable.
“GSA is a place that can work for everyone. It is inclusive and every teacher tries their best to have students succeed. There is a collaborative environment. We all work together and support each other,” says Bannon.
Perhaps best summed up by board member and host parent Prudy Heilner, GSA offers a real-world experience like none other. “I would send my children here over any other school,” shares Heilner.