This is the seventh installment in an ongoing series about the unique history of Good Will-Hinckley. To read the previous installments, click on one of the following links: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV; Part V; Part VI.
In a typical community, summer is a time for students to get an education outside the school grounds: playing with friends in the neighborhood, attending camps, taking road trips with the family.
Then again, Good Will-Hinckley has never been typical.
When George Walter Hinckley founded GWH in 1889, he envisioned a place where education was a year-round endeavor. At the end of the academic year, a different kind of learning took place. By day, students would tend to the Good Will Farm, sowing seeds and caring for the livestock. In the evenings, they’d take walks through the woods and fish along the Kennebec River, or in one of the many nearby ponds.
For Hinckley, these skills were essential to fostering a well-rounded life. In “Chronicles of Good Will Home 1889-1989,” Lawrence Sturtevant cites one of George Hinckley’s early journal entries, in which he expresses the hope that “every boy will, when he reaches manhood, be able to drive a horse, row a boat, swim and do various other things that any self-reliant, active person knows how to do.”
Come one, come all
Over the years, GWH started offering outdoor-centric programs to the wider public, primarily through the L.C. Bates Museum. In 2019, the museum hosted eight different weeklong day camps for kids of all ages.
There was Time Travel Camp, where campers learned about the museum’s many artifacts, went on archeological digs and printed their own newspapers on a historic printing press. They even dressed up like kids in the early 1900s.
At Wildlife Camp, participants learned about Maine’s diverse wildlife and explored the many different species of animals that can be found in and around our pond.
For those who enjoy gazing at the stars, we offered the Earth and Sky Astronomy Camp, where campers explored the basics of our solar system using telescopes, solar glasses and galaxy models—all provided by NASA. Meanwhile, our STEAM Camp led kids on a series of scientific adventures, designed to show how science, technology, engineering, art and math (hence STEAM) are interconnected.
In their own ways, each of these camps embodied the kind of hands-on learning that George Hinckley advocated his entire adult life. Today, I think he’d be proud to see how his beloved organization embraces the surrounding community—and touches the lives of thousands of children from all over Maine.
Hope springs eternal
A similar schedule of outdoor programs was planned for this summer. And then COVID-19 happened. After months of uncertainty, it became increasingly clear that it would be too difficult to conduct these camps safely—much less in the intimate way that George Hinckley envisioned.
In canceling them, we know we made the right decision. At the same time, it’s been sad to see our once-vibrant campus become so still. Right now, the only people on the GWH grounds are a few dozen students and a handful of administrators. The students here are required to maintain social distancing. Even our beautiful trails, a popular attraction for both the GWH community and nearby residents, are emptier than usual.
And yet, signs of life—and signs of hope—aren’t hard to find.
Despite the enormous challenges GWH has faced, the spirit of George Walter Hinckley’s vision is all around us. For students who’ve stayed on campus, basketball, tennis and swimming have offered much-needed respites. We’ve given out more than 350 science kits to area children, with themes ranging from space and geology to birds, seashells and minerals. We’re offering a free virtual art exhibit, as well as nature walks through our miles of trails (with proper social distancing, of course).
The little things
Since this crisis began, I’ve been so inspired by the resiliency and creativity our students and staff have shown. They haven’t just made the most of an unfortunate situation; they’ve turned it into a true learning experience—one that will hopefully benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Whenever I see one of our students out shooting hoops or taking a walk around our trails, it puts a smile on my face. But there’s one sight that’s been especially uplifting.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen some of our students fishing along the Kennebec River—just as they did more than 100 years ago. Most of the time, they’re accompanied by a teacher or staff member. I used to do a lot of fishing growing up, and what I remember most about it is the conversations—the kinds you can only have once you step outside the classroom.
As I watch these students and teachers cast their lines, I imagine the things they might be talking about: the state of the world, the meaning of life, their favorite pizza or video game. Really, the topic is irrelevant. It’s the conversation that matters.
As much as math or science, as much as tilling fields and caring for livestock, these conversations—these interactions we have with one another—are part of our education. While COVID-19 might change how we do the big things (classroom learning, our favorite summer activities), it doesn’t have to change the little things, like fishing in a river in the early evening.
After all, it’s the little things that make life worth living.