Vanessa Jones, 27
Head resident, Coastal Studies ?for Girls, Freeport
Though Coastal Studies for Girls in Freeport is the first of its kind – an all-girls school focusing on scientific inquiry, leadership skills and environmental awareness – it seems almost tailor-made for Vanessa Jones, the school’s head resident.
Jones, who grew up in Cumberland, said she had spent much of her own education feeling disengaged until her senior year at Wesleyan University, when she took a class in service learning, a teaching method where students apply their academic knowledge to do relevant community service work.
“All of a sudden I saw a purpose for my education,” said Jones.
After graduation, she helped develop a service-learning component in the sociology major at Bryant University through AmeriCorp and ran a community-service learning program at a private Rhode Island high school. She then earned her master’s in ecological leadership and education from Audubon Expedition Institute at Leslie University, a program that combined her interests in the outdoors, working in a tight-knit group and making a difference. When she learned about the opening at the Coastal Studies for Girls, she knew it was also a perfect combination of those interests.
“I said I have to be at this place, I have to be part of this. I want to help girls be excited about their education and learning and making a difference,” said Jones. “Usually, you can’t really go into a high school and teach community building and leadership skills, and these were the things I was passionate about.”
At the residential school, 13 sophomores spend 16 weeks learning hands-on scientific research and outdoor skills while also taking courses in mathematics, English and a foreign language. As the head of residential life, much of Jones’ work focuses on community building and peer leadership.
“My main goal is to help them find their voice and feel comfortable using their voice to make whatever change they want to see here and in the world,” said Jones.
They spend the end of every school day in a closing circle, where the girls gather to talk about the day and practice speaking up and listening to each other.
“Not only are they finding their voice, but they’re learning how to listen to others. We want them to learn how to listen authentically to what other people say,” said Jones. “It’s a collaborative process, which is a really different model of leadership.”