June 06, 2020

Students visit magnet school over holiday > New enrollees attracted to Limestone facility

LIMESTONE — While most of the state’s public school students had the day off Monday, nearly 30 high school students from across Maine were in classes at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics.

These students were taking a look at the state’s only magnet school as a place to finish their high school education.

MSSM is the only public high school in Maine to actively recruit students.

Less than 2 percent of its annual $2 million budget, or $40,000, is spent on an admissions counselor’s salary, literature and three open houses held annually to allow potential students to visit the facility in Limestone, according to Kellie Rebscher, MSSM’s director of development.

“It’s a great way to introduce prospective students to the school,” Rebscher said about the open house.

As a residential school, MSSM students remain in class and do not take some holidays off, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was celebrated Monday.

The 5-year-old school began as a way to utilize the Limestone Community School after Loring Air Force Base closed in 1994, taking away 80 percent of its student population.

Partially built with federal funds brought in by having the base in Limestone, the school has state-of-the art science laboratories, an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool and other amenities that were left idle when the military-related students left.

As a public school, Maine students attending MSSM are not charged tuition. Room and board rates are assessed on a sliding scale based on need.

Of the $2 million budget, $1.6 million is appropriated by the Maine Legislature. The remainder is funded by private contributions, grants and some room and board money, Rebscher said.

There are currently 127 students attending the magnet school, representing 15 of the state’s 16 counties, according to Rebscher.

In preparation for the open house, an MSSM bus took host students on a bus to Kennebunk, where they spent the night. During the return trip on Sunday, potential students were picked up at various points along Interstate 95.

Usually about 40 prospective students attend the open house. However, the weekend snowstorm curbed the numbers, according to Priscilla Bradway, admissions counselor.

During the two-day events, potential MSSM students visited David Dougan’s science lab, where various experiments were conducted. During one exercise, potassium was heated and then a sugary Gummi Bear was introduced, causing a chemical reaction that produced some colorful flames and smoke.

Other classes were studying the Civil War, while others were working on advanced math problems.

Da Chang, a sophomore at Mount Desert Island High School, said Monday that he wants to be “challenged” by the high-level courses at MSSM.

At age 15, he said he would miss his close-knit school community at MDI. Chang, who wishes to study engineering in college, said he heard about possible “political tension” between magnet school students and those attending the community school.

Rebscher, who sat in during Chang’s interview, said she was surprised by his comments.

“We’re working very hard to smooth any perceptions of tensions between community and MSSM students,” the school official said.

Rebscher, who has been on the job since last July, later said she had not witnessed any problems between the two student populations. She said that members of both groups participate in each other’s activities.

“We do a lot of things together,” Rebscher said.

Chang said he plans to attend for his high school junior year at least.

“I think if I came up here, I’d make friends,” he said.

Ivy Mussomeli, from Mt. Ararat High School in Bowdoinham, has been to three summer camps held by the magnet school and is looking forward to becoming a student.

“This school is good at setting people up for college,” she said during a break in classes.

Mussomeli said she liked how the school’s teachers coordinate schedules so that not all homework is due or tests are given at the same time.

“Teachers are happy to be teaching,” Mussomeli said.

At age 14, the Bowdoinham student said she would “miss her mom,” if she moves to Limestone to study. However, the use of e-mail and telephones in students’ rooms would help her get over any homesickness, she said.

“The dorms are awesome,” Mussomeli said.

Another open house will be held next month during Presidents Day weekend, Feb. 20 and 21.

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