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New Perspectives - Apr, 1998 Issue #51

Camden, Maine
Emanuel Pariser, Co-Director

Founded in 1973, The Community School is for “kids who have not ‘fit’ anywhere....” It is for “former high school dropouts who must hold a job, pay room and board and attend classes five evenings a week and on Sunday afternoons.” The school works with eight children per semester, and with six staff, this means “Students work closely with staff virtually around the clock.”

A list of why The Community School works includes the following reasons: 

1.) Residence - “removes students from failure-ridden environments and gives them a chance to live and share responsibilities with peers who have positive goals, and with adults who will provide them with constructive role models.” 

2.) Size - eight students with six staff “requires that students relate to the program in non-institutional ways and take part in decisions that affect them directly.” 

3.) Education - “Progress toward the diploma is systematic and measurable.”

4.) Work - “Each student works 28-40 hours per week in the community. The job provides students with a paycheck and access to the adult working community.” 

5.) Decision-making - “All decisions governing the rules of the school are made by vote.” 

6.) Staffing - “The assumptions we have made about what makes life meaningful for our students apply equally to our staff.” 

7.) Values - The values the community lives by are verbalized and all agree to them. These values include: “It’s better to work for a living than to be financially supported by others,” “It’s helpful to have a diploma,” “Cooperation with others is essential,” “It’s okay to have good and bad feelings,” and “Learning how to make, keep, and renegotiate agreements is necessary in adult life.” 

8.) Inalterable Rules - They are basic non-negotiable rules such as no drugs, no weapons, no TV, no sexual relations between students, and no violence or threats of violence.

Creating a community within the school, and active interactions with the surrounding community is a very important goal. Pariser says “That’s really part of the essence of the school, to get people to see that they are connected.... They had trouble [before] feeling that they belonged and were important.... The intimacy is the hardest part of the program, ” says Pariser. “But that’s what makes it work.” Another part of their philosophy is stated by Co-Director Dora Lievow. “We view learning as something that can happen in school and out of school, in both formal and informal settings.... but real learning is the informal kind that takes place around the clock.” Pariser adds, “Individualized, student-centered learning is at the core of the school’s philosophy — not unlike the old one-room school....” 

Students come from all over the state of Maine, and elsewhere in the country, for a variety of reasons. “Many have struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. Some have learning disabilities, others... are extemely bright youngsters who felt bored and boxed-in by the rigidity of public school.... There’s a whole group of teenagers out there who are really disconnected and they need to belong, to feel connected.” 

As Pariser said in an e-mail to me, “The whole idea of our school is to provide a ‘rite of passage’ if you will, between adolescence and adulthood by emphasizing real-world skills, such as work, house-care, conflict resolution, as integral parts of our curriculum. We are the only school I know of working on an intensive five and a half month schedule in which time a dropout can finish high school, regardless of previous credits.”

Pariser and Lievow started out to develop a model of a school that works for children who do not fit into traditional academics. Testimony from many sources suggests they have succeeded. 

Copyright © 1998, 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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