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Nancy F. with student
September 10, 2020

A light-bulb moment

Inspired by Abbot Academy teachers, Nancy Harris Frohlich ’67 cultivates a lifelong career
by Nancy Hitchcock

What Nancy (Porosky) Harris Frohlich ’67 discovered during her first year at Abbot Academy built the foundation of a nearly 50-year career.

“Abbot changed my life,” she says. “It inspired me to take a leap.”

When Frohlich was in middle school, living in a small, homogeneous town north of Boston, she knew she needed something different. Frohlich wanted to be part of a more diverse community, and she wanted learning that was more than memorizing facts. She felt compelled to apply to an independent school even though she would be the first in her family to do so. When she entered Abbot Academy as a 10th- grader, she was immediately struck by how the teaching connected common themes and experiences.

“That was when the light bulb went on for me,” she says. “Having a context for learning impacted what I do in schools now and the kinds of teaching I’ve done all my life.”

Leaps of Imagination has provided more than 800 children with an opportunity to develop a passion for the environment and art making, while also building self-confidence and courage.

As an educator, Frohlich has applied this learning framework in many different ways. She has been a classroom teacher, a curriculum specialist, and a head of school. And in 2012, after retiring and moving to Rockport, Maine, Frohlich embarked on a new venture that would tie together all of these experiences.

Founded in 2012, Leaps of Imagination stepped in to fill a critical need when public schools in mid-coast Maine were contemplating eliminating art. The nonprofit provides art programming to elementary school children in six underserved Knox County communities, where many families struggle with economic disparities, including lack of food and housing. The art programs are explicitly connected to social and environmental justice, while also intersecting with the public-school curriculum.

Frohlich first learned about the concept of connected learning from her Abbot English instructor. “Miss Way influenced me tremendously,” she says. “Our program that first year connected themes from Doctor Faustus, Moby Dick, and The Old Man and the Sea, which led to intense discussions of big ideas.”

Leaps of Imagination programming explicitly connects themes of social and environmental justice along with public-school curriculum.

At Leaps of Imagination, Frohlich has implemented connected learning by involving teams of local mentor artists who lead field trips and help inspire children to create.

“Big ideas are what make all of the activity experiences and readings have deeper meaning, because everything is interrelated,” says Frohlich. “Each learning experience builds on what has come before.”

One of Frohlich’s favorite programs, “Working Across Communities,” enables children to study insects, collaborate with kids from other towns, learn about nature and social justice, and tie it all into making art.

Susan Beebe, one of the six artists who teaches the program with Frohlich, says, “Nancy inspires the children to imagine ideas for making the Earth a healthier world. We adult mentors were amazed to hear some of their profound thoughts. For example, one boy said, ‘Clean water for everyone on Earth.’ With their partners, the children drew what that healthy world looks like, with clean blue seas and green continents filled ‘with healthy food, grapes, and apples’ and bicycles. It was a glorious day!”

Just as she has been inspired by connected learning, Frohlich hopes the children in her program will continue to make important connections and have a positive impact on the future.

“Students have to step into their own power,” says Frohlich, “and that’s what Abbot gave me the opportunity to do—to learn differently, to see that learning really engages kids’ minds.”

Categories: Alumni, Magazine

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