When Peder Schaefer ’18 pictured spending three months in Wiscasset, Maine in the Chewonki Maine Coast Semester program, he imagined quiet nature walks and lots of time to read alone.
“I had never been camping or had any related outdoor experience, but I loved the PCD trip to Chewonki in the eighth grade,” said Schaefer. At the beginning of each school year, all PCD eighth graders participate in an outdoor education program at Chewonki that combines environmental education, skill building, team building, and fun for a memorable learning experience. “Following that trip, I knew that I wanted to return to Chewonki. I loved being in nature and the quiet, peaceful setting.”
When Schaefer returned to Chewonki junior year for a full semester, he found the experience was vastly different than he expected. Instead of independent activities and quiet time alone to read and reflect, he was surrounded by groups of his peers and community-oriented programs. “The semester experience was way more focused on people than I thought it would be. I was with other people, 24-7,” he said.
The Maine Coast Semester program at Chewonki is an immersive academic experience that allows students to share daily work assignments, classes, wilderness trips, and down-time in their group cabins at night. Schaefer lived in a cabin with five other boys for the semester. As a self-proclaimed introvert, he actively looked for opportunities to separate from the group—even taking on more than his fair share of early morning farm chores—but as the days and weeks continued, he was surprised by how much he came to enjoy spending time with and learning about the other students, which included more than 40 other high school juniors.
“I found it challenging to be around people all the time but it allowed me to build a new set of social skills I never had… to connect and talk with people in a much deeper and more thoughtful way,” he said. Now, he credits the experience with advancing his people skills and believes that building new, meaningful interpersonal relationships is just as important as “me time.”
“The best part of the experience for me was the friendships I made. I met awesome people from all over the country,” he added. “We only had each other to talk to every night and that led to closer, more connected relationships, than the ones I formed before Chewonki.”
Yet, in addition to closer friendships and strengthened social skills, Schaefer also found the semester experience helped develop his self-confidence, independence, and leadership skills. He began running and raced in a half-marathon. He embarked on a five-day hike of Mount Bigelow. He spearheaded a class project that led him to interview nearly a dozen community members in the local town, Wiscasset to learn its history and the recent economic challenges it faced when the local nuclear power plant closed. “For our human ecology capstone project, I really wanted a topic that focused on the people of Wiscasset. I interviewed everyone from public school teachers to business owners and even a nuclear power activist,” he said. Schaefer is now working to create a podcast that shares their stories and is considering journalism as a possible career path.
While a close, supportive community has always remained one of the pillars of the PCD culture, Schaefer now plans to work with Head of School Vince Watchorn to create more opportunities on campus that mirror the Chewonki immersive experience—ones that foster new interpersonal connections between students. He was also inspired by the weekly discussions at Chewonki on diversity and equality and is also interested in creating new social justice programs at PCD. He, and a group of PCD students, recently attended the Morgan Stone Day of Justice at the Lincoln School and are also working to create a social justice club on campus.
“I am excited to be back at PCD this semester and I look forward to exploring some new ways to bring that aspect of connectedness and community at Chewonki to PCD.”