Watershed School Celebrates 15 Years of Education and Community Engagement

On June 9, 2018, Watershed School is throwing a 15th Anniversary party, from 6:00 - 9:00 PM at their new home at One Free Street in Camden. The public is invited. The festive gathering, with food from community sponsors, contra-dancing and live music, celebrates a legacy of quality learning and rich community and school partnerships.  

Watershed School, Midcoast Maine’s only independent high school, opened its doors in 2003 in Rockland. Since 2012 the school has called Camden home, but Watershed students consider Midcoast Maine their campus. Over the course of fifteen years Watershed School has combined intellectual rigor and courage, with project-based learning, design thinking, consensus building  and a joy of learning together with a commitment to purposeful work within a community setting. “Our students work on projects from Belfast to Boothbay,” Head of School Will Galloway observed. Relevant research and applied problem solving tied to community issues are an essential part of the school’s academic program. “Our students want to make a difference right now,” Galloway says. “And we’re thrilled to give them the opportunity to do just that.”

A meaningful reciprocity between Watershed students and community organizations has led to improved street lighting in Rockland, refined data monitoring for the Seabright Dam, the reinstatement of Camden’s Energy Committee and Camden’s participation in the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, just to name a few. Student learning has been dramatically enriched through the working relationships with varied organizations such as the Steel House, the Camden Conference, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Darling Marine Center, Bay Chamber Concerts, Liberian Education Fund, Trekkers, and the Maine State Science Fair.

How the Watershed School came to be is a story worth telling. Fifteen years ago, six dedicated parents and educators sat around Ralph Moore and Bridget Buck‘s kitchen table brainstorming ideas for a new school. They wanted a place where students would have a voice in their education, in an intellectually challenging environment. They wanted a place where the context of the learning experience is as important as the content. They wanted to cultivate an inclusive community of teachers and learners grounded in personal integrity and decency toward others.


“We started with only 12 pioneer students, but even with such a small program we established many of the elements that form the foundation of our program today,” says Phil Gerard, the school’s founding director. “In that first year we started our weekly All-School-Meeting where students develop democratic skills; our school outdoor and urban trips; interactions and service projects with the larger community; the open schedule no-classes project week; the school’s committed focus on skill building in the arts; and our narrative evaluations and commitment to avoiding conventional grades.”

“One of the best things about Watershed is that many of our founding members--Phil Gerard, Sherry Frazer, Ralph Moore, and Pete Kalajian--still teach at Watershed,” says Galloway. “The culture of the school gets passed down each year from these talented educators, and none of our institutional knowledge is lost.”

A “watershed” can be defined in two ways; an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins, or seas, and an event or period marking a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs. “Watershed School is not only a place where things are pulled together, channeled, and connected, but is often a turning point in people’s lives,” says Galloway. “We’re often told by students that we have changed their lives for the better. Engaging with, and empowering students, is a role we take seriously.”

A Watershed education is built on the principle that exceptional individual growth develops out of strong teacher-student relationships within the context of a close-knit community. Faculty concentrate on knowing each student in the school--in terms of learning style, interests, attitude toward learning, challenges, and aspirations--so they can help develop each student's full potential. The democratic nature of the community develops skills leading to effective citizenship and fosters a healthy affection and sense of responsibility for the school, thereby increasing student openness toward learning, toward each other, and toward adults. The attitudes fostered at Watershed School prepare students for a lifetime of learning and for involvement in local communities and the larger world.

“The education and guidance delivered by the Watershed School has enriched their lives forever, and reopened the natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge that had languished in previous years,” says Gerald Brooks of  Union, Maine, and father of three Watershed graduates. “Without Watershed, the spark and enthusiasm for personal enhancement and growth for my three incredible young adults would, most assuredly, have foundered. Whether it is personal interests, further education, or occupation, all three strive forward with confidence and vigor that can only be attributed to the education received at the Watershed School.”  

In 2012, Watershed moved to the Knox Mills Center in Camden, and finally to their permanent home at One Free Street in Camden in 2017. The new building boasts 7500 square feet, more than twice the space as their old building. The increased space will allow the school to grow to its targeted enrollment. Families have come from more than a dozen surrounding towns, often driving up to an hour to school each day.

Community engagement through the arts, sciences, mathematics and literature is an ongoing  and integral part of Watershed’s challenging academic program. It is important to acknowledge the 15 years of noteworthy civic engagement initiated by Watershed students. These research-based, real-world undertakings have not only benefited Watershed students, but have significantly and positively impacted surrounding communities. They include:

Lighting Ordinance Change in Rockland - In a joint effort between Pete Kalajian’s Astronomy class and Will Galloway’s Applied Democracy class, the students decided to take action around the city’s plans to put in new lighting in 2006. The students appreciated the town’s intent, but wanted to preserve Maine’s iconic pristine dark sky. They researched city light ordinances from around the country that focused on maintaining dark skies and reducing city glow. In addition to visiting with city officials and doing research on current lighting and proposed lighting, Watershed students specifically targeted the implementation of  “fully cut off lighting,” which meant any new commercial construction in the city of Rockland would be required to use cut off lighting on exterior buildings and in parking lots. Without such implementation, the shopping centers which house Lowes, Home Depot, and Walmart would have had increased Rockland’s city glow, which can be seen for miles. Thanks to this ordinance, Rockland residents, visitors, and even birds, can benefit from the city’s dark sky.


Carbon Neutral Camden - In 2016, Janet McMahon’s Global Climate Change class analyzed Camden’s renewable and non-carbon energy options in an effort to petition the town of Camden to become carbon neutral by mid-century. The students audited municipal entities and were able to calculate the amount of energy the town of Camden uses. Much of the research and analysis the students conducted eliminated the need for the town hiring professional auditors. The students’ 20-page report was presented to the town SelectBoard, and led to the reinstatement of the Camden Energy Committee, which had been defunct until that meeting. Because of the presentation and the work that was done by the class, the Energy Committee requested that a Watershed student be added as a representative to the committee. Watershed faculty member Pete Kalajian also serves on the committee.

Sea Level Rise Camden - Watershed School students again presented their research in 2017, this time on the impacts of sea level rise on the town of Camden. In addition to researching the global causes of sea level rise, students also drilled into the projections for the northeastern United States during this century, and potential impacts of different sea level scenarios on the Camden waterfront. The class then took into account how different communities around the Gulf of Maine are addressing what many consider to be the biggest environmental challenge facing Maine’s coastal communities in the coming decades. Their compelling findings led Watershed students to make recommendations to the town of Camden and resulted in the town making adjustments to plans for renovating the public landing.


Camden Joins the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy - Just this year, students from Watershed School and Camden Hills Regional High School again presented to the SelectBoard about joining the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. The SelectBoard agreed, and, joining more than 8,000 towns and cities across the world, Camden became the first town in Maine to sign on. Camden committed to assessing its current greenhouse gas emissions and developing a plan to reduce them, and in tandem with that effort Watershed’s Global Climate Change class has begun work on a greenhouse gas inventory for the town.

Educator’s Guide to Camden Conference - Watershed School designed what is now a popular and state-wide “Camden Conference In the Classroom” program. It originated from the work of Watershed students and faculty who developed an “Educator’s Guide to the Camden Conference” in 2010, using selected clips of foreign affair themes and topics, making the 3-day conference accessible and user friendly in the classroom. Watershed School has since developed a full-year senior seminar dedicated to the annual topic of the Camden Conference, and Will Galloway is on the Camden Conference Board of Advisors.

Lighting Survey in Rockland - Janet McMahon’s Global Climate Change class worked with the city of Rockland in an effort to reduce energy consumption by reviewing and completing an inventory of current street lights usage in the city of Rockland. What they found demonstrated inefficiencies that ultimately were costing the city more than $15,000 a year. The class did a specific survey of every street light in the city to determine whether it was necessary to provide the adequate lighting at street level. Their proposal saved the city money. Not only were streetlights changed to be more effective and efficient, but Rockland also used the student-collected inventory rather than spend the money to do the inventory themselves.

Sea Bright Dam Monitoring in Camden - Pete Kalajian’s Introduction to Programming class used arduino technology to design and build a monitoring system for water flow and energy at the Seabright Dam. This effort enabled the town to monitor the hydro-electric dam with greater accuracy and efficiency.

Lighting Upgrades in Camden - Watershed students re-visited street lighting in Camden in 2016. After completing a baseline survey of a section of downtown street lighting, students then re-measured light with a pilot project of new street lights, and demonstrated the difference and efficacy of installing new lighting. The town agreed to a complete retro-fit of all downtown street lights from the old “glare bomb” lighting to the upgraded “fully cut-off” lighting, and as happened in Rockland, the dark sky was preserved,  the detrimental effects artificial lighting has on wildlife decreased, and costs went down.

“We are honored to have our permanent home in Camden,” says Chris Davis, Watershed Board President. “And we are looking forward to many more years of community engagement throughout the Midcoast Community.”

Watershed School’s 15th Anniversary Party takes place Saturday, June 9, from 6:00 - 9:00 PM at their new home at One Free Street in Camden. The event will feature music by the Gawler Family, a contra-dance with caller Chrissy Fowler, and food by local restaurants and sponsors. The suggested minimum donation is $15 per person, and the event is open to the public.