In Towns Without High Schools, Maine Students Make Choices

Hundreds of eighth grade students in Maine have an important decision to make soon — which high school will they attend?

There are several towns in Maine, like Eddington, Glenburn and Orrington, that do not have high schools. Students who live in these towns have their pick, pending admission, of other nearby high schools. The home districts of these students pay a state set tuition rate to the high school of choice. For high schools in the area, this is a good thing — budgets are tight, and there has been a steady decline in student population over the years. Many districts rely on outside students to stay financially secure, creating competition to draw them in.

This is the case for Brewer High School, where academic liaison Andrea Jordan says that 50% of her school's population comes from outside of Brewer, and 10% of the school's revenue comes from tuition.

A months-long courting process begins in January with students, teachers, and parents giving presentations at sending schools. Then comes a series of Step Up Days, where eighth-grade students are invited to spend part of the day at prospective high schools and some students spend a day shadowing a high school student.

According to Bangor Daily News's Nell Gluckman, Step Up Day at Brewer is a day where eighth grade students are guided through the school by upper classmen and are taught by teachers dressed in the the school colors of orange and black. At Bangor High School, visiting students are welcomed by the color guard, a singing of the national anthem, and tours of the building; during the day students are able to watch performance by the school choir and band.

Bangor Principal Paul Butler says that students need to "get a sense of how the school feels", and at Bangor the students get a mixture of academic and extracurricular activities. Typically, parents do not go to Step up Days, but data on student test scores and class failure rates are found online.

Another school that parents and students consider is John Bapst Memorial High School. Recruitment at the private school is critical and districts must pay the tuition if a student enrolls there. According to the head of the school, Mel MacKay, 65 percent of the school's budget and 80% of the student population comes from towns that do not have high schools.

"If you believe that competition makes us better, then this is a mechanism that allows all the local schools to be focused on quality," MacKay said. "It's also a great little bit of preparation for the college decision making process."

02 19, 2014
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