I have a half-sister, Wendy, who is ten years older than me. We’ve never considered each other “half”, though – she (and her family) is one of the three relations that I have any kind of contact with from my side of the family. She moved out of my mother’s house when I was six, but then helped my family raise me (because I guess I was more than one person could handle?) after my mother died. I lived with my Grandmother, but spent many weekends at my sister’s house.

Anyway. I was seventeen or eighteen when Wendy’s first child, her daughter Sable, was born. I babysat every now and then until I moved to Arizona. Since then I’ve seen Sable (and her three brothers) a handful of times – each time I went back to Maine for a visit, and once when Wendy, Sable, and Lucian (the next oldest child) came out to Arizona for a visit. I talk to my sister as often as I can, and pretty much every time I do she mentions how much Sable reminds her of me. Good genes, that kid.

Sable is seventeen years old, and since last fall as been attending the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, a private boarding school in Northern Maine that is considered number twelve in the top high schools in the U.S. She got a scholarship that covered most of the ~$8,000 per year room and board fee (non-Maine residents pay $31k a year ON TOP OF room and board) and addressed her new life away from home with enthusiasm. MSSM has a total of 325 students from K-12, stuck up in the middle of nowhere – and I do mean NOWHERE. Limestone shares a border with New Brunswick, Canada, and is smack in the middle of some pretty vast wilderness. Basically, it’s exclusive and it’s remote. There’s not a whole heck of a lot for teenagers to do up there, on the closed campus.

Which is why they often get into mischief, which is what Sable did. Her first offense was hanging out in the school gym with her boyfriend after hours. Her second offense, months later, was sneaking out of the dorm in the middle of the night with her friends, slipping through an open window of the elementary school on campus, and sitting in the sandbox. Unfortunately for her, the elementary school is equipped with motion sensors, and the police busted her and her friends.

That second offense got her expelled. None of the other kids who were with her were kicked out.

Now, I’m not saying what she did was right. She broke the rules and she ought to be punished. I do think, however, that expulsion is overkill. Especially considering that there are students there on their seventh or eighth offense for drug use, having sex in their dorm rooms, stealing, destruction of property, and the like. They get stuck on kitchen duty, or bathroom duty, but continue on their merry way none the worse for wear. Sable does something relatively harmless, and she gets kicked out.

Wendy had to make the eight hour drive to go up there and pick Sable up, on a 24-hour deadline to get her off campus property. And, as is the way of Wendy’s luck, they hit a deer on the way back home. Car occupants are fine – the deer wasn’t so lucky.

My sister tried to repeal the decision, but the Dean of the school is having none of it. And I’m pretty sure I know why. It’s because Sable is there on a scholarship, and her family isn’t rich like many of the families of the other kids at the school. They told Sable they weren’t going to reconsider because it would be “setting her up for failure.” Her grades were no better or worse than any of the other students who were academically qualified to be there. So for a Dean to say something like that to a humiliated and upset seventeen year old girl is just unforgivable.

“Setting her up for failure,” indeed. The kid takes after ME. She’s a smart cookie.

Students on scholarship programs are held to a different – higher – standard of behavior and academia than others, I’m sure. The perception is that you have to continue to earn your position at the school, and continue to prove that you belong there, and continue to demonstrate that you’re just as “worthy” as the rich kids.

It’s such a hard lesson to learn, at the age of seventeen. This is the way the world works. These are the hurdles that are put before us. That you try your hardest and do your best, but can have it all taken away from you for just being a normal human doing normal human things. They have a campus of teenagers, isolated and away from their families, and put an inordinate amount of stress and pressure on them to achieve very high standards. With no outlet or opportunity to just BE a teenager, I foresee tragic results around the corner for MSSM. How easy would it be for a teenager to succumb to despair, up there in the middle of nowhere? Not feeling smart enough or good enough or RICH enough. Feeling isolated and alone. Those feelings come standard with ANY teenager, how much more so would they be amplified in a place like that?

Personally, just based on some of the things I’ve heard about the establishment, I’d be very worried about my own child. I don’t know, I just think something sinister is going on up there. I hope folks doing web searches about this school find this entry and carefully consider their decision.

Anyway. Sable is back home again – re-enrolled in her local high school and not happy about it at all. I hope she continues to look for opportunities to achieve her ambitions. The little town of Poland isn’t big enough to hold her for long.

  1. Shelli says:

    How incredibly awful! I feel so bad for her. I don’t know how, but I would make a big stink about it, possibly getting the press involved! I agree that she only got kicked out because she’s poor (while the rich kids get to break all the rules and stay enrolled). I worry about that kind of behavior with my own Son, who I’m hoping will get a scholarship to MIT. Although, I would assume there is a more diverse group at MIT … brains like that transcend financial status.

    Unfortunately, that kind of example is something that is set very young. A friend just pointed out how wrong it is to make kids in a “uniforms only” school pay $1 on special days to be allowed to wear street clothes. Seems only those who can afford it are allowed to break the rules. What does that tell our children?! I can honestly say that I never saw it through that particular filter when my Son had to “pay to play”. I do now!

    I wish your niece the best of luck with her future education.

    Not the best quality, but the only one I can find 😦 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8t-fMjkmteE

    • Tiffany says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure what I can do other than what I just did. According to their student handbook they’re within their rights to do what they did, but they’re not applying the rules the same across the board, which is just wrong.

      Thanks for the video! If Sable didn’t consider all country music to be anathema, I’d share it with her. 😀

  2. Taoist Biker says:


  3. Taoist Biker says:

    Slightly more lucid but still thoroughly enraged. My first instinct would be to threaten to sue the holy fuck out of the school unless every child implicated in the same incident received the same punishment.

    As a poor kid who only went to college via scholarships, loans, and federal grants, I am FUCKING INCENSED. It seems to me she was “worthy” of hanging with the rich kids – she was doing the exact fucking thing they were doing. But equality of opportunity doesn’t mean the same thing as equality of treatment does it?

    All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

    • Tiffany says:

      Wow, it took you almost an hour to calm down! 😀 I haven’t talked to my sister since last week so I’m not sure if she’s pursuing anything else or not. And I just learned that Sable can’t graduate with her original Poland HS class, either. See, she attended Poland HS through her Jr year, then transferred to MSSM, which requires a two-year program to graduate (has collage credit implications, etc). So she was a Jr in PHS, then a Jr again in MSSM and completed almost the full year before having to transfer back to PHS. Her original class is graduating this year but PHS is only allowing her to transfer back as a Jr, which means she has yet another year of HS to deal with, without the benefits that would have come with additional year at MSSM. The whole situation is royally fucked up.

  4. Amanda says:

    How terrible! You would think that she had already proven that she belongs there when she had the grades to get in AND get a scholarship!!

  5. Bill says:

    The “not applying the rules the same across the board” thing aside.
    I have to say she should have been aware of what could have happened and being her second infraction she should have been on her best.
    Based on what you said her grades were not A’s which in this circumstance they should have been and throwing away a chance like this so you can sneak out your window and play with your friends is insane!
    I may have been more compassionate and understanding about situations like this if this were the 1st or even the 100th time we have been through stuff likes this but we have heard this same type of thing so many times.
    Most kids today have been so coddled they have no concept of hard work or dedication to anything. They all feel the world owes them something just because they are here.
    For her given her situation she gambled with her golden ticket out of there and lost. I hope for her this is just a setback that will cost her a few years but either way when she does grow up she will look back on this and know what a huge mistake it was to not just listen.

    • Tiffany says:

      Yeah, that “just listen” thing has been our particular refrain for YEARS, hasn’t it?

    • joanna says:

      I whole heartedly agree with Bill. No one will care more about your dreams than you do. You will never change the fact that certain groups get preferential treatment. As Stuart Smalley (SNL) said, “it’s easier to put on slippers than to carpet the world.”

    • iamheatherjo says:

      You know, it doesn’t happen often but…I, too, agree with Bill.

      (Write it on the calendar, Bill!)

  6. stateworker says:

    Wow, LOTS of inaccuracies about MSSM. It is not private, it is public. It is a boarding school but occasionally takes day students. It has less than 150 students, 90% or so from Maine. It is a magnet school which means they get to choose who gets to be there. It is based on behavior, acedemics, and maturity and is a priviledge, not a right.

    On rich kids, not many there. Most scrape to send their kids up there. This is why some of the students end up at Umaine rather than more expensive colleges. The school will often give you one infraction ( and sneaking out is a fairly big deal up there) as a learning experience but not two. I am sorry for Sable because she made bad choices but it was not because she was poor or on scholarship. Limestone is in one of the poorest regions of Maine, it would not be tolerated.

    • Bill says:

      I can tell you from experience that schools like this are absolutely dependent on the students that pay. I had my children in private school up to 8th grade.
      A tiny school like this simply could not afford to drop the students who are paying.
      There were many times that I watched over the years that families with multiple children in the school (thus multiple tuitions) were treated different than the single child that was there on state assistance.
      Had the school dropped one of my children I would have removed both because it would have been a huge hassle to not too and that’s why they won’t punish all the kids equally.
      It’s obvious you have a dog in this fight I’m guessing you work for the school?
      The real issue here is the other kids did the same thing and did not get kicked out the dean lied to her mother and was misleading about the written rules knowing she could do little to fight back.

      I understand this is they way the real world operates but it does not make it right.

      I wonder how much of the scholarship the school is giving back to the fund?

      • stateworker says:


        Nope, see post below replying to Tiffany. I am not an employee of the school. I am a parent of a student that went there. This is not a private school nor has it been around long enough for much alumni support so no “fund”. When parents need financial aid, it is provided by the State of Maine who is finally recognizing its worth. They do drop students that are paying; I have examples. Fyi, my husband is part of the Foundation that is trying to get real scholarships from businesses for students who go to the school to help with the cost.

        My dog in this fight? Yep, my pooch is trying to get services for two children in an environment that is consistantly dumbing down the education they receive. So yes, we support the best option we have and put our time and a bit of money where our mouth is.

        • Bill says:

          Well since it opened in 95 that is long enough to establish an alumnus fund. The fund I was actually referring to, though, was the scholarship Sable attended under. I wonder now what is going to happen to those funds provided on her behalf, now that she is no longer attending – if they will be returned to the general scholarship fund.

  7. stateworker says:

    A few more corrections: Limestone Community School K-12 and MSSM are two separate schools sharing the same building. MSSM is a High School and has a four year program. Out of state students are charged $31,000 which INCLUDES room and board. It is in the middle of nowhere but the students come home once a month and have a long break over Christmas. The residential staff provide a lot to do on the weekends and the students make a lot of their own fun but it is on par with Poland Maine! It does have a Junior Olympic sized pool (indoors of course, else it would be a skating rink). The school combines with Limestone for sports as neither is large enough to make a team on their own! http://www.mssm.org

    • Tiffany says:

      Hello Stateworker, I am pleased that you have kindly provided your perspective – much of the info I posted was from MSSM’s website but perhaps I misinterpreted some of it, so thank you for the corrections. I am curious to know if you hold an employment position within MSSM, or are you a parent or former student? The information I have received from my niece and my sister speak to a less than positive experience, which is shared by at least some of the student population currently residing at MSSM. As I’m sure you can agree, it is not okay to hold some students to a particular set of standards, and not apply those standards across the board. So for students to still be at the school who have committed far worse “crimes”, to those students who were with my niece on that same night and yet not punished, speaks to me of unfair treatment. And I wonder what sets those students apart who have gotten seven and eight and nine “chances” to rectify their behavior, when my niece was sent home after two relatively minor infractions. But again, thank you for your clarification and information, I appreciate your visit!

  8. stateworker says:

    Hello again,

    I am the parent of a graduate of the school (May 2009). My son will be applying for the 2011-2012 school year at MSSM as a sophomore. We’ve been quite involved in the school. It is not perfect but no school is.

    The school is first and foremost about academics. They work wicked hard up there and play, just as hard. The reward is something that they cannot get anywhere else: being in a place where academics are praised, celebrated, and you can be “proud to be a geek”(my daughter’s words). They are allowed more freedom than a lot of high school kids their age (freaks out the parents,sometimes). They have a lot of the same issues as any high school with drugs, sexual activity, etc. What I have seen is that, because parents are not up there with them, and communicate via email, text, and phone, that the rumor mill gets a work out! When you peel down to essential issue, it tends to be smaller.

    Now, I hesitate to answer your question on the “crimes”. I wasn’t there, I don’t know of the eight or nine worse crimes, or the punishments. Disciplinary procedures are not publicized so all you have is the student body’s perspective, which, frankly, tends to minimize their own actions and magnify others. We all do it, even adults.

    Unfair treatment is an interesting concept. We all have heard about colleges (and high schools, alas) that keep letting great athletes slid by academically so they can play. I don’t know about unfair treatment at MSSM. I fully support parents questioning judgements made by schools (I am rather infamous for it) but I also know that parents will never be given all the facts about other students so to try to evaluate whether it is fair or unfair is difficult without all the facts. I will say that, if I still had a student there, that I would want all of the factors (academics, maturity, motivation, behavior) taken into account during discipline and, to my understanding, they do the best they can.

  9. Taoist Biker says:

    I’d bet that FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) wouldn’t let the school answer specific questions about other students, although you could possibly get statistical information about how many infractions, what sorts of punishments, number of expulsions, etc. over a given time period. If it is indeed a public entity, though, then your options as far as finding out what happened and/or happens there (should your sister desire to go that route) is drastically widened via the state equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act.

    Maine’s public school system must be radically, radically different from every one I’ve ever known. I can’t for the life of me understand how a “public” school can charge tuition and accept out of state students. Not that it’s necessarily bad, I just have never heard of the like for a public primary or secondary school.

    • stateworker says:

      Hello Biker,

      No, Maine’s schools are not radically, radically different. We have only 1 magnet school, no charter schools (although they are trying to pass legislation on it), and the rest are typical schools. There are thousands of magnet schools across the nation, so many that US News and World Report has a separate catagory for them in their “Best High Schools” analysis. They all work roughly the same way and have been around since the sixties.

      • Taoist Biker says:

        After looking at the web site for a while, MSSM just reminds me a lot of a handful of private schools out in the rural area where I grew up. I don’t doubt its public status – that’s plain to read on the web site – I just find it somewhat surprising.

        There are at least half a dozen public magnet schools (and even more private schools) in the city where I live, and while they can be selective about the students they admit none charge tuition, and they can only accept students from within this school district (the county). That’s the way it’s been in every school district in the 3 states where I’ve lived.

        But, to be fair, none of those public schools were also residential schools, so that could account for the major difference.

        • Taoist Biker says:

          Whoops, clarifying poor sentence structure – the PUBLIC schools can’t charge tuition. If the private schools couldn’t charge tuition, I’d be a much wealthier man. 😀

  10. stateworker says:

    Hello Bill,

    Yes, the first graduating class (all 20 of them) should be starting to be in the position to create an alumni fund and there are efforts in that area. In terms of the financial aid, I don’t no for sure whether the school “returns’ the money back to the state, but I would doubt it. It doesn’t work that way for other schools. Since over two-thirds of the school year is done (ends Memorial day weekend), it wouldn’t be that much, really.

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