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From The Newspaper
Updated August 24
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Ecology Learning Center celebrates first anniversary

One year ago, Head of School Lēza Packard purchased the Unity Foundation building on Main Street in Unity to be the future home of Ecology Learning Center. Today, enrollment is up, and a celebration is in order.

Ecology Learning Center Head of School Lēza Packard holds a brick honoring donor Donald A. Foster of the Unity Foundation Aug. 20.

UNITY — Ecology Learning Center celebrated its first year anniversary Aug. 20 at the former Unity Foundation building on Main Street.

Lēza Packard, head of school, said, “We cut the ribbon to purchase the building in August of last year.”  The event was made possible by the generosity of the Unity Foundation and hundreds of community donors.

Under each cup was a donor’s name and people attending the Ecology Learning Center’s anniversary event were paired to dedicate each brick. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Deeply rooted in ecology and hands-on learning, ELC is a tuition-free public charter school open to any Maine high school student in grades nine, 10, 11 and now 12.

Maria Orlova dedicates a brick to her mother, Olga, at the Ecology Learning Center’s one-year anniversary Aug. 20. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

The school was approved by the Maine Charter School Commission in 2019 and initially rented space at Water Street Learning Center in Liberty.

Ecology Learning Center Community Coordinator Katharine Gaillard serves Stone Fox Creamery ice cream to attendees Aug. 20. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

To commemorate its first year as a public charter school at the Unity location, students, parents and community members laid bricks with engraved messages from donors in the walkway surrounding the school building. 

Freshman Amelie Hahn plays her clarinet for friends, family and community members at Ecology Learning Center’s one-year anniversary event Aug. 20. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

“We had an auction that brought in several thousand dollars,” Packard said. “Anyone donating $250 could have a brick engraved in their honor… We raised $111,000 during the pandemic in two months.”

Unity Foundation matched $100,000, she said, and the school “walked away with this beautiful building for $200,000.” Approximately 200 donors supported the school, with many $5 donations and one that was $20,000, Packard said.

“Our goal was to have 48 students and we did,” she said. “Forty-seven out of 48 students are returning next year… This coming year, we have 79 enrolled and have 10 spots on a waiting list.”

This past year the school offered ninth, 10th, and 11th grades, she said. Next year the school will also offer classes for students in 12th grade. Future donations of $250, Packard said, will go toward a school scholarship.

Stone Fox Creamery provided ice cream to go along with maple syrup made by students at the school. The homemade syrup was also mixed with bubbly seltzer to make maple soda and once everyone had a cup, several toasts were offered. A freshman student played a solo, to the delight of the crowd.

“With public charter schools,” Packard said, “enrollment drives everything. One year ago, I didn’t have the students I wanted. To have 79 enrolled and 10 on a waiting list, I’d say it has been wildly successful.”

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