Thornton Academy Opens New STEM Center

SACO – For more than 200 years, Thornton Academy has built classrooms, office space, and dormitories as the school expanded and grew to become one of the largest high schools in the state.

The latest addition to the school was unveiled to the public Saturday, Sept. 12 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the school’s new STEMcenter.

The STEM center, a privately funded, $2 million project, is comprised of eight new classrooms and lab spaces. The two-story addition was added to the end of the Scamman science building. Administrators, faculty and staff from the school met with the construction company and designers for months to ensure the space would meet educational requirements for the curriculum, and the architectural style would match the rest of the campus.

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The new AP Chemistry room in the STEM Center at Thornton Academy is one of eight new rooms at the center. (David Arenstam photo)

“This space and this curriculum demonstrates our commitment to inquiry-based instruction for our students,” said Headmaster Rene Menard. “Students and teachers pose questions that are then researched here.”

The school has worked for more than 18 months on the construction project and, with the help of STEM partners, a group of local business and educational institutions, the hope for an academic space dedicated to fostering growth in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math has become a reality.

Brittany Brown, a development associate, helped organize the event and hoped the occasion would give the public a chance to tour the new space.

“We wanted to honor and thank those who helped us build the new addition, but we also wanted to open the school for the public,” she said. “We weren’t sure exactly how many people would show up, but we were hopeful – we promised tickets to the football game.”

More than 100 people came to the campus to see the new math and science classrooms, most of which were dedicated to donors who helped financially with the project.

The rooms on both floors are evenly divided between math and science classrooms, and one of the second-floor math rooms is dedicated to former Thornton teachers Phil Curtis, Dom DiBiase and Dick Parker.

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Jack Morrison, a math teacher who has taught and coached at TA for more than three decades, and worked with each of the men, now teaches in a room that carries all their names.

“It’s truly a privilege to teach in the Curtis-DiBiase-Parker classroom in the new STEM wing,” Morrison said. “I was a student here 40 years ago, and these three teachers helped prepare me for college and life – Phil Curtis was my baseball coach, Dom DiBiase was my math teacher and Dick Parker was my chemistry teacher and track coach.”

Morrison is one of several Thornton graduates who now teaches at the school, and he hopes he can do for his students what his teachers did for him.

“When I returned to TA after college to begin my own teaching career, these three men continued mentoring me,” he said. “They never stopped teaching. They offered advice and empathy for a novice educator.”

Morrison proudly points to the pictures, books and objects that fill his new classroom as he talks about the importance of a teacher connecting with his or her students.

“With a corner window looking out over the baseball field and tennis courts, teaching in this classroom allows me to combine my two passions – mathematics and athletics,” he said. “I hope I can honor their careers and provide an intrinsic thank you for their roles in my development.”

Morrison is not the only TA grad to work in the STEM center. Teri Arenstam teaches honors chemistry and forensic chemistry across the hallway from Morrison.

“I teach in a flipped classroom,” she said to first group that visited her room. “You’ll see the tables arranged so that four students can work … with me during class on the chemistry problems they’d ordinarily do for homework. At night, they’ll watch lectures I’ve prepared for the unit they’re working on.”

Her room, like all of the rooms in the STEM center, is filled with the technology she needs to enhance student learning.

“We are a 1:1 iPad school,” she said to her tour group while pointing to a large flat-screen TV in the front of her room. “That means I can connect any time to the work my students are doing and we can share it with the rest of the class.”

As the crowd left Arenstam’s room and headed to their next stop on the tour, one man stayed behind.

Parker was Arenstam’s chemistry teacher when she was a student, and he wanted to say hello.

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“Jack (Morrison) says he has the best room in the school, but I don’t know,” he said, pointing in the direction of lab equipment and the two glass windows that overlook the school’s quad. “This is pretty nice.”

David Arenstam is an English teacher and chairman of the Technology and New Media Department at Thornton Academy. He is also Teri Arenstam’s husband.

David Arenstam

About David Arenstam

Originally from away, but here to stay - Maine is my home and I love writing stories about the people and places from my end of the state. I am a teacher and writer and my first novel, "Homecoming: A Soldier's Story of Loyalty, Courage, and Redemption" is available now at www.BrysonTaylorPublishing.com