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Harpswell Coastal Academy Preserves Voices of the Pandemic

April 2, 2021

Harpswell Coastal Academy Preserves Voices of the Pandemic

HCA: A School for Social Change, Entrepreneurship and the Environment

Brunswick, Maine — As Maine strives to plug the brain drain and entice graduates to remain in the Pine State, Harpswell Coastal Academy (HCA) has been anchoring students to their community since its founding. A year-long humanities class that launched in 2014 has been dedicated to that mission with an oral history project that captures the extraordinary stories of “ordinary” locals. 

This year’s theme, “Voices of the Pandemic,” builds on an ethnographic tradition that has spanned conservation advocates to seaweed harvesters. During 2020–21, students tackled how the Covid-19 crisis has impacted the livelihoods and well-being of locals, including a teacher, commercial fisherman, general store owner, and a nurse. Learning how people have weathered the pandemic—by changing course and aiding others in crisis—fits HCA’s curriculum of entrepreneurism and social change. 

"At HCA, we help students identify what they care about, understand the historical and contemporary dynamics that impact it, and develop skills for meaningful action,” says Head of School Scott Barksdale. “The great work that students are doing in this year's Voices project is such a neat example of that." 

The class researched the pandemic’s global scope, studied oral histories from NPR’s StoryCorps, and culled interviewing tips from a New York Public Library curator. Due to distancing constraints, they pivoted to Zoom interviews; recordings will be posted to harpswellstories.org and hopefully celebrated with a future exhibition at the school. 

“Generations to come after us can hear these stories that people might not hear otherwise,” says sophomore Chris Moss. “In 20 years, we will be talking about what happened and teaching kids about this time.” Because of his family’s lobstering lineage, Moss chose to focus on the seafood industry. He interviewed a commercial tuna fisherman whose livelihood income on demand from sushi restaurants and consumers who could afford the pricier fish. But with restaurants shuttered and wallets hurt by the pandemic, the fisherman needed a plan B. Chris found the tale has a happy ending—the man nimbly shifted his business to charter fishing excursions. 

The Voices course exemplifies HCA’s philosophy of authentic, project-based, student-driven learning that is inquiry-based. “Students realized how oral histories allow us to preserve future history,” says humanities teacher Whitney Conway. “Traditional ways of learning history have been from the top down. Now they are recording history from the bottom up, from regular people, and they understand why that matters. As one student commented, ‘I wonder how many voices were lost to history before this technology existed?’”

For more information, please visit harpswellcoastalacademy.org

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HCA’s is a free public charter school and all Maine students are eligible to apply for enrollment. Our mission is to create an engaged community of creative thinkers, compassionate leaders, and effective problem solvers. Learning at HCA is project-based and place-based, grounding students in a purposeful exploration of the natural and human worlds. Our curriculum cultivates curiosity, integrity, and civic-mindedness and prepares students for post-secondary success, whether in college, technical training, or the workforce. We envision HCA students and alumni as lifelong learners and champions of positive social change, economic opportunity, and sustainability in our towns, state, country, and world.

Division I (serving grades 5-8) is located at the Harpswell School at 9 Ash Point Road.

Division II & III (serving grades 9-12) is located on Brunswick Landing at 8 Leavitt Drive. Attached: Chris Moss participated in the Voices of the Pandemic and was interviewed for this profile.

 

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