Starting with a New England expedition this summer, three local young women are launching an independent school that will eventually have its home base in Maine, while finding roots all over the country.

Heather Foran, 28, Claire Hirschmann, 27, and Jen Lazar, 28, met each other through different avenues — as undergraduates at Williams College, as teachers at the Traveling School (a travel program for high-school girls), and as students at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. They discovered that they harbored intersecting ideas of opening a school that took the immersive "study-abroad" model and employed it here, in the United States.

After more than a year of planning, the Field Academy is getting off its feet. The founders are currently recruiting students from across the nation to participate in a five-week pilot program: "Away but Home: A Study of New England," which will explore coastal Maine, the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, and the city of Boston. Then, by the fall of 2012, they hope to have their first full class; Field Academy students will spend their junior and senior years at the school, following a full academic curriculum both at a sustainable farm campus (in Maine, location TBD) and during extensive US travel.

The Phoenix conducted an e-mail interview with Foran (who is in Guatemala right now), Hirschmann, and Lazar; their lengthy responses (edited for space below) conveyed both their collaborative process and their enthusiasm.

tji_field_ClaireHirschmann_
WHAT DO YOU HOPE STUDENTS COME AWAY WITH FROM TIME AT THE FIELD ACADEMY?

Claire: From what I can tell, in most students' minds, learning starts at 7:45 am and ends at 3:00 pm; then life begins. Life and learning exist as separate entities: learning is sitting in a dreary box under pulsing fluorescent lights; life is what happens outside of that. This is appalling. Learning and life should be indivisible: we want our students to have the sense that they can learn from everything, that each experience they have can legitimately teach them, and that the world — and not a single concrete building — is their school.

HOW DID YOUR TEACHING AND LEARNING EXPERIENCES INFLUENCE THE EVOLUTION OF THE FIELD ACADEMY?

Jen: During the summer of my sophomore year of college I drove across the United States. By the time I reached Utah, I was completely enamored with this country and stunned by how little I knew about it.

In Vermont, I worked with children from affordable housing communities and college students to plan adventure trips across the United States. Many of our teenagers had never left their home state, and some had never left their hometown. Some were recent immigrants to the United States, and came with a strong set of ideas and expectations about life in America.

This organization, the DREAM Program, was simultaneously developing a summer and winter camp for the organization. This 50-acre piece of property was being developed into a shared home for all of DREAM's kids and mentors. I had the opportunity to help reclaim a homestead, clear a trail system, and construct treehouse cabins alongside our teenagers; witnessing the passion they brought to the process of building our community was an incredible experience. They came to know the land, to call it their own and care for it. Often they would talk about Camp DREAM in contrast to what they considered their formal education, as in: "This is so much better than school." Through these experiences, it became apparent to me how imperative it is to integrate a deep study of place — from both an ecological and sociological perspective — into schooling.

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