This fall, two Thornton Academy members of the class of 2017 find themselves in a unique spot: they are enrolled as sophomores in college. Caleb Bailey and Ben Leary completed the necessary coursework to be admitted to the University of Maine School of Engineering with sophomore status, bypassing one year of studies and tuition payments. The agreement enabling these two students was signed by Thornton Academy Headmaster Rene Menard and University of Maine, Dean of Engineering, Dana Humphrey in 2013. Caleb and Ben are the first two students who have taken advantage of this unique agreement.
Associate Headmaster Marsha Snyder, Headmaster Rene Menard '88, Caleb Bailey '17, Ben Leary '17, Dana Humphrey, Dean of UMaine College of Engineering at the award ceremony.
Signed on August 21, 2013, the agreement between Thornton Academy and the University of Maine was the first of its kind to provide an explicit partnership between a high school and university to encourage students to pursue STEM education. Education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is critical to provide needed workers for high-tech employers and help drive economic growth in the state of Maine. Former Maine Senate president Justin Alfond said, “for Maine to be competitive, we need a highly skilled and well-trained workforce in an ever-changing and interconnected global economy”. This partnership is a starting place for filling this gap and creating this workforce. Maine has seen an increasing number of high-tech businesses launch or relocate to the state in the past few years, so partnerships like this provide a pipeline of students to workers.
By completing this program, students earn up to 32 college-level credits through coursework at Thornton Academy in Advanced Placement science, mathematics, and humanities, which allows them to be admitted at UMaine with sophomore status. Dana Humphrey, Dean of Engineering at UMaine noticed that “what is unique and exciting about this program is the breadth and quality of the AP classes at Thornton Academy.” Students in this program take AP classes in Calculus, Physics, other sciences, and have a choice of Humanities AP classes. Thornton Academy currently offers 24 Advanced Placement courses, more than any other in the State of Maine.
Rigor is a defining characteristic of this program. Students must start early and be committed to the program requirements and demanding coursework throughout their four years at Thornton Academy. In addition to completing the courses, students must receive passing grades (3 or higher) on all eight of their AP exams. This is no easy feat; most TA students only opt for a couple of AP courses. Ben and Caleb should be commended for their hard-work, dedication, and achievement in these challenging courses.
Both Ben and Caleb say that the hardest part of the program was organizing it and fitting all the necessary classes into a busy schedule. Luckily, they had help from dedicated TA employees. Ben says that guidance counselor Lucretia Wallace “was the MVP in the whole thing”. She helped Ben stay organized, know which classes he needed to sign up for, and met with him frequently to check in and keep him on track.
Ben and Caleb faced a hurdle during their senior year in the 2016-17 school year. Two of the required courses: AP Physics C and AP Computer Science had been scheduled for the same block. Physics teacher Matt Amoroso saved the day and allowed the students to complete the coursework for AP Physics during a block of another Physics class. He recorded the lessons in the mornings so Ben and Caleb could watch them in the afternoon and worked with them outside of the normal school day so that they learned the material and were prepared for the AP exam. Clearly, all three demonstrated investment to seeing the two students complete this program.
When asked why they had decided to complete this program, both students commented on their desire to skip a year of college, and the tuition payments that accompany it. Ben is already looking ahead at how much money he will save, and Caleb says “Frankly skipping a year of college is just such an unimaginably good deal that I thought I'd be stupid to skip out on it. They had the program I wanted and apparent connections with NASA, who I hope to be able to work with, if not for, at some point, so I thought it was just an extremely killer deal.”