The inaugural class of Maine Ocean School students, along with teachers, trustees and volunteers, celebrated the opening of the institution and talked about their experiences so far, at an open house in the Searsport District Middle/High School cafetorium Nov. 3.

Currently 12 students are enrolled in the public magnet school that provides a hands-on education "on the water, in the lab, and in the classroom."

Three years in the making, the school is a type of specialized public school known as a magnet school (at present there are only two in Maine), funded by both private donations and state funds. There is no tuition, though residential students pay $800 a month for housing.

Prospective students, parents and community members were invited to the four-hour open house to learn about the new school from displays and speakers. Fifty or more people attended.

Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Carla Scocchi said, "It feels like we opened yesterday, and part feels like we've been open for years. It's been a whirlwind three-plus years." 

Organizers have had "more successes than challenges," she said, adding that being only the second magnet school in the state is "kind of new for everybody."

"The kids have just bonded, we knew that would happen, being such an intimate school," Scocchi said. "We wanted this school to be like a shipboard community where everyone has a job and people rely on each other; we wanted to create that in a school environment."

Students are from all over the state. The farthest came from Kennebunk, and that student is housed with a local family.

Lead teacher Leslie Gregory has been an educator for more than 20 years.

"The vision is finally realized," she said. " … You are not always ready and become ready as you go."

She said establishing the school has been quite a process — ranging from choosing students and planning coursework to creating relevant opportunities that can apply to all students.

"Their discussions are very rich," Gregory said. Students talk about issues that concern them in a mature way, and that seems to be the difference between Ocean School and a traditional public school, she said.

The magnet school has been fortunate to have so many people from the community get involved, Gregory noted, saying, "People want this to be successful." 

Almon "Bud" Rivers, Finance and Facilities Committee chairman, said the school has enough money to get through its inaugural year.

"We receive an allotment from the state, per student; but while a regional school unit receives local tax funding, we do not," he said. "Also, the state does not pay for the residential portion of the school."

Maine Ocean School Foundation raises funds to fill gaps where the state leaves off, Rivers said.

"It's not the perfect formula to cover all costs, but the school has no start-up costs and and has a large volunteer labor force," he said.

Capt. Eric Jergenson, chairman of the school's Board of Trustees, said, "The most important part is Maine Ocean School has students, and we are proud of every one of them. They are all passionate about the ocean."

Student Kamren Start said the best part of Maine Ocean School for her has been "the feeling of having a family around you; it feels like a family."

Student Peter Shelton of Belfast said, "I like the way it's really hands-on." He said he is looking to study transportation or engineering at Maine Marine Academy after graduation.

Maine Ocean School is now accepting applications for the 2019 – 2020 school year. For more information, visit