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New Perspectives - Jun, 1999 Issue #58 

 The Community School
Camden, Maine
Emauel Pariser, Co-Director

The Community School is the “only learning establishment of its kind in the nation, a groundbreaking alternative school for high- school dropouts.” The residential school is for 16 - 20 year olds who have dropped out of high school. Eight students live at the school for six months during which time they must hold jobs in the community, pay room and board, and attend classes six evenings a week. Once accepted, they take on a heavy workload, but receive “boundless individualized attention and an 80 percent chance of eventually getting their diploma, regardless of their previous credits.” In the past two decades, more than 300 kids have gone through the state-approved, rigorous program.

Learning viewed as “something that can happen in school and out of school, in both formal and informal settings...around the clock. It’s the relationships with the staff that form the basis of a student’s commitment to the program.” Individualized, student- centered learning is at the core of the school’s philosophy.

“One-to-one tutoring in the school’s informal setting often restores a positive attitude toward learning. We consider each student’s academic history, learning style and interests. In addition to the mandated academic subjects, the school’s curriculum covers many challenging areas of personal growth and learning. Students attend classes, some of which are voluntary, in parenting, substance abuse prevention, conflict resolution, sexuality and self-esteem, and may choose electives in assertiveness, non-violence and relapse prevention.”

A staff of six works with sixteen high-school dropouts each year. The academic program thrives on volunteerism from community members who lend their expertise in disciplines ranging from nursing and gardening to meditation and video production.

“Cooking, cleaning and menu planning are required courses. Students wake up with their own alarm clocks, budget their own money, launder their own clothes, and arrange their rooms. Once a month they go camping. Trips include climbing, canoeing, hiking, ropes courses, and participating in outdoor science and geography labs.”

Students participate in weekly meetings. There are also short workshops on aspects of group living, and Consequences Meetings, where a rotating team of one student and one staff, facilitated by a former student, must reach consensus in assigning a consequence.

The School is in a rambling old farmhouse, a few blocks up the road from the high end boutiques, in the town of Camden, Maine.

The Passage is another program offered by this agency, which serves out-of-school 15 to 20 year old parents in Waldo or Knox County. It is modeled on the Walkabout, a rite of passage for youths in aboriginal Australia. This Passage program is designed to help its students develop skills to survive and nurture their children. Students work at their own pace to acquire proficiency in 22 Core Skills and meet at least once a week with a Community School teacher.

Copyright © 1999, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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