The Watershed School of Rockland is now recognized and accredited as an independent school with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. After a two-year process of review and refinement, the seven-year-old school is now fully established as Midcoast Maine’s only independent high school.

Accreditation provides Watershed and the Midcoast community with many new opportunities. For example, students from nearby towns such as Newcastle, Damariscotta and others that do not have a public high school may be eligible to use state education funds toward tuition at the Watershed School. The majority of Watershed students live in the greater Rockland, Rockport and Camden area, but current students also come from Belfast, Newcastle, Waldoboro, Port Clyde, Tenants Harbor and other Midcoast towns.

Watershed Director Will Galloway said some grants and matching contributions are only available for accredited schools. And several top foreign exchange programs also require accreditation of participating schools. “Accreditation lends legitimacy and seriousness to our purpose but it also requires us to follow through on our plans for growth and our commitment to academic rigor,” Galloway said. He said the school currently has 28 students enrolled for next year and is on track to reach its goal of 40 students (10 per grade) by 2012.

According to the NEASC report, the visiting committee was “immediately impressed by the students’ and staffs’ obvious pride in their school and the manifestation of Watershed’s clearly stated mission. The Watershed School is a truly democratic community where each person not only has a voice, but also offers his or her individual talent to create a unique learning experience. It is a school founded on the principle of students and staff respecting each other.”

Watershed Board of Trustees President Ralph Moore said accreditation is the culmination of a long and satisfying process. “Since a group of us began to share thoughts about forming this school back in 2001, it has been a project blessed by the most spirited teamwork imaginable,” he said. “This is a wonderful example of what can happen when the wisdom, vision and love of parents, young people and teachers lead them into trusting relationships to build a learning community. The accreditation is a recognition of our having made a solid beginning. Now we face the next phase of our work: to serve more learners well. What a gift and what a treat to be on such a journey.”

The school has expanded its faculty and course offerings for next year, including the addition of a second English teacher as well as a Latin teacher. Watershed students will continue to engage in community affairs, including the Camden Conference and the Midcoast Forum on Foreign Relations. In addition, students from any regional high school are invited to apply for the yearlong Picker Student Fellowship for International Relations, hosted by the Watershed School.

Graduates of Watershed are currently studying at Mount Holyoke College, Bates College, Oberlin College, McGill University, College of the Atlantic, The University of North Carolina School of the Arts, The Rhode Island School of Design, Worcester Polytechnic University and other institutions.

For more information about the Watershed School and the Picker Fellowship, contact Laura McGrath at 594-1873 or lauram@watershedcommunity.org.