Waterville Alternative School
The Colby Volunteer Center (CVC) provides a number of opportunities for students to volunteer in the greater Waterville area. One such program takes place at the Waterville Alternative School, where students can volunteer for a couple hours each week tutoring teens who are struggling to graduate high school.
The Waterville Alternative School is a sub-program of the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, an organization that began in conjunction with the Maine Children’s Home Society. The first Maine Children’s Home Society, founded in 1899 in Augusta, provided children in need with food, clothing and a place to live temporarily or even permanently. In 1962, it merged with the Maine branch of the New England Home for Little Wanderers and moved to its current location on Silver Street in Waterville.
Today, the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers distributes Christmas presents during the holiday season, offers summer camp scholarships for economically disadvantaged children as well as provides adoption counseling, outpatient mental health services, a daycare center and the Waterville Alternative School.
The Waterville Alternative School is a program designed for students in grades 9-12 who have had difficulty succeeding in a regular school setting. These students face different challenges, such as learning disabilities, physical abuse, emotional difficulties and teen pregnancy. In other words, many of these students are at risk for dropping out of school and need extra support.
Classes at the Waterville Alternative School do not conform to traditional high school coursework. Although there is a core curriculum (i.e. math, science, history and English), students also take classes like “business math,” “career exploration,” “creative design,” “independent living,” “parenting,” “prenatal instruction” and “work experience.” These classes are designed to prepare the students for the working world rather than for college (although some of the students do attend college). Upon graduation, students receive a diploma from Waterville High School.
Last spring, three students from the College made a documentary about the Waterville Alternative High School for Professor of English Phyllis Mannocchi’s class, American Dreams: The Documentary Film Perspective. The film follows three Alternative School students who talk about their experiences.
One female student in the documentary recalls getting pregnant in eighth grade. “I was told that I was a bad influence on the other kids [because I was pregnant] so I dropped out,” she said. Her life changed when a representative of the Waterville Alternative School came to her house and told her about the program.
“No one in my family graduated from high school or college,” she said. The Alternative School helped her graduate by providing free daycare for her child right downstairs from her classroom. “This is the place for me,” she said.
Also, in the documentary, a male student who was abused speaks about the bonds he has formed with the students and teachers at the school. “I always wanted a good life, a good family. I see people all the time with their kids; I see people loving their kids. It ends up hurting to see that.” Attending the Waterville Alternative School did not change his situation, but it provided a wonderful support network for him and allowed him to finish his education at his own pace.
Anna Leavitt ’12 is the CVC coordinator for the Waterville Alternative School. Leavitt said she always wanted to tutor in schools, and she became involved with the Alternative School because “this is a program with a lot of need. They need a lot of help because the school is very student-specific and each student has different needs that the school caters to. Plus, [the students] have more to deal with than just high school struggles.
Leavitt said that the program is looking for volunteers to tutor and mentor students on Friday afternoons. Volunteers will be paired up with a student and will help him or her with math, reading and study skills, and part of the strength of the program comes from volunteers who are willing to commit to tutoring so that they can form relationships with the students, Leavitt said. Not only do volunteers make a difference in these students’ lives, but “volunteering is a great way to bridge the gap between Colby and the Waterville community,” Leavitt said.
Students interested in volunteering at the Waterville Alernative School should email email@example.com or stop by the CVC in Diamond for more information.