Creating a Culture of Character

Community consciousness is second nature to students at North Yarmouth Academy.

Growing up in Freeport, Ellie Bouman, 15, has only known the joys of living in Vacationland, so when she was exposed to environments that were intensely suffering the effects of climate change, she instantly became invested in climate action.

“Seeing the deterioration of the coral in the Caribbean just in the four years between visiting was enough to make anyone want to act,” the North Yarmouth Academy sophomore said. “It was shocking.”

Naturally, Bouman was eager to participate when she heard about the Portland Museum of Art’s new Tidal Shift Award, a prize for New England-based artists between the ages of 14–22 to create art to inspire climate action.

Deeply inspired and feeling supported by Colby Myer, NYA’s Upper School Art Teacher, who first presented the Tidal Shift Award opportunity to his students, Bouman devoted all of her art class and personal time to complete “The Colorless Sea.” Her hard work paid off in the spring, as she was the youngest of six winners to receive the award, including a cash prize of $2,500.

“It’s incredibly important, any time there is motivation beyond just the grade, to show students there is space for their art amongst the world,” said Myer, who advised Bouman on her submission.

NYA has a long, cutting-edge history of nurturing the whole individual beyond just their academics. From the toddler to the postgraduate program, students’ schedules (as well as their extracurricular activities) include time for performing and visual arts, and service-forward activities, as a way of emphasizing social-emotional development among their students.

New this year is the school’s Character and Community program, headed by Betsy Tomlinson. Through service, leadership and volunteer initiatives, the Character and Community program encourages students to be thoughtful and effective members of their community and make positive change in their lives, formalizing a part of students’ education that is vital but often over-looked in many schools’ curricula.

The program comes from a unique differentiator of the independent day school: its size. From their days in the lower school to their graduation, students at NYA get to know the entire student body as well as faculty and staff, creating a successful environment for academic and personal growth.

“There is a culture of good character at NYA, mainly because there’s no place for unkindness or disrespect to hide,” Tomlinson said. “Because of this culture, students can feel comfortable to find the best version of themselves because they have the support of their teachers and peers.”

NYA’s culture is why initiatives like the Tidal Shift Award and other community engagement and mission-driven additions to their academics are second nature to teachers like Myer and students like Bouman.

“We make art not just for ourselves but to enrich the lives of other people; it’s entirely organic to me to incorporate community involvement into what I’m teaching,” Myer said. “Trying to make a change is inherent in making art.”

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