The following presentation was made at Assembly on March 20, 2019, by Lila Schaefer ’20 after she spent several months at Maine Coast Semester at Chewonki.
Hi everybody! As some of you may know, I spent the fall semester at Maine Coast Semester at Chewonki. This program is a semester school for juniors and in Wiscasset, Maine, which is about four hours from here. Going to Maine Coast Semester was, without a doubt, the best decision of my life and I want to share some of that experience with you in hopes that you will also consider the program or others like it. There are a lot of really cool semester school options like HMI, Alzar, or the Island School, so if a semester program is interesting to you, you should also take a look at those as well.
So starting off, some of you may be wondering why I would willingly subject myself to no phone for four months, living in a cabin with no automatic heating, waking up at five in the morning to take care of pigs, or living in the woods alone for two days. I have been at Williston since seventh grade and a lot of people from my elementary school also came to Williston, so before this fall, I had never really been in a new environment where I didn’t know anybody. I knew I wanted to have a new experience and do something different, but I never expected that I would end up in Wiscasset. The first thing about Maine Coast Semester that popped out to me is that it’s in Maine. Anyone who knows me knows I love Maine, so the idea of spending four months there seemed really appealing. Utilizing the campus and all of the things it has to offer was one of my favorite things to do. I would use the miles of walking and hiking trails, go hammocking, and use the waterfront to go swimming every Saturday, even in December.
Another important part of the campus is the farm. One of the biggest ways that students are involved in the farm is through farm chores. During their two week farm chore shift, a cabin wakes up early in the morning and heads to the farm to do things like milk the cows, collect eggs, clean the horse’s stall, or in my case, feed the pigs. I knew that farm chores were a part of the semester before I came, but I was surprised when my cabin was told that we were the first cabin to do them. So, at five o clock on the first morning of the semester, my cabinmates, who I didn’t really know well, and I headed to the farm. I volunteered to be the one to feed the pigs because I thought that they would be piglets. I was very wrong. I got to the pig pen to find eight three hundred pound pigs who were all very hungry. I learned a lot in those first two weeks taking care of the pigs: one being that pigs are very smart and will try to knock you over when you are holding their slop so that you have to go to breakfast with literally a bucket full of day-old soup spilled on you, and another being that I am a lot more capable than I think sometimes.
This is a perfect example of the responsibility that Maine Coast Semester gives its students. We are trusted with a lot, taking care of farm animals, splitting our own wood, not burning our cabins down, and growing some of our own food. Through this program, I learned to be more responsible and accountable for myself. One of the ways that this manifests itself is through mindfulness of the environment. At Maine Coast semester, environmental consciousness and accountability are incredibly important. During the program, you learn a lot about things like where food actually comes from, how to reduce our environmental impact, the economics of climate change, and more. I think that for me, a new sense of environmental consciousness has been a big takeaway from my experience, as the program centers itself around teaching and exercising sustainability in all aspects of it.
Most of the classes, although they are in different disciplines, find ways to connect themselves to real world issues and the environment. For example, in English class we went outside to do journaling for two hours each week. For science, we learned one hundred species from the Maine Coast and went on a field lab for the whole afternoon once a week. We also had seminars on farms, food, and energy systems where we would do hands on activities that teach us about issues our society faces today. In math, we would use geometry, trig, and calc to build things or learn about tidal cycles. There was no day when we would not go outside during at least one class, even if it was in the middle of a snowstorm.
Speaking of going outside, Chewonki’s Wilderness programs are one of the most important parts of the semester, first students go on Wilderness trips where you split up to go hiking, canoeing, or kayaking for a week. Initially, I thought that this wasn’t something I would enjoy a lot. I thought that hiking up a lot of mountains would be kind of a pain and that there wasn’t really a purpose to it, but going on that Wilderness trip exposed me to something that I really love now and want to keep doing for the rest of my life. During the semester, we also go on solos for two nights. As much as I would have loved to have a life changing revelation during solos, I didn’t (big surprise). But I did gain more of an appreciation for nature and learned more about how much extra stuff we have in our lives. It was also a really great time to reflect on my semester so far.
So as you may have noticed by now, students at Maine Coast Semester have a lot of things that are scheduled. When you are the ones doing the maintenance on campus, growing your own food, and keeping your cabins warm, as well as participating in rigorous classes, there is not a lot of free time. Initially, this was something that I worried about. I thought that if I didn’t have free time, I wouldn’t be able to get to know people as well or have as much fun. That was not the case. The scheduled times were some of the times when I had the most fun. It also made the times when I did have free time so much more special, and it taught me a lot about time management. Some of the things that we would do in free time is go hammocking, knit (a lot), have snowball fights, spend time with cabinmates, go on walks, and just talk a lot. Without phones and being pretty disconnected from the outside world, we were able to really get to know all the members of the community, and I am still in touch with all of them today.
Finally, one of the biggest challenges in going to Maine Coast Semester was that it is a semester and we run on trimesters. Initially, that was a deterrent from going, but Williston was really helpful in the whole process and I am really grateful for all of the help that I have gotten from Williston in making sure that I am caught up in my classes.
Going to Maine Coast Semester was one of the best decisions of my life, and I hope that some of you can have a chance to go to a program like this, or something similar, at some time in your education. If you have any questions please shoot me an email or just come ask me, I would love to talk about the program with you or answer any questions you may have.